Why People Steal

aspects of ethics

Aspects of ethics

On a recent trip to the grocery store, the security alarm went off as a customer attempted to exit the store. My checker was in view of the security guard. She said in a whisper to him (so he could read her lips) that the person had not paid and it was the second time they had attempted to leave the store with goods for which they had not paid. They had an exchange. She explained to the guard (now standing near her) that the activity was repeated; in no instance were the goods paid for.

The checker then looked at me and sincerely asked, “Why do people steal? Don’t they realize God can see them?”

My focus at the time was on several matters not related to being accused of stealing. I still needed to quickly pack the goods into my bags, load them into my cart in a manner that would not cause the bus driver to accuse me of being an indigent. Then there was also being able to manage the cart without causing undue strain on my disability. My focus was on other matters.

Since then, I’ve had two separate instances of having my laptop hacked because of fraudulent downloads masquerading as necessary, harmless software. Unfortunately and unbeknownst to me, they were not from the publisher one would expect and were loaded with malware. And in both instances, the malware were set up to induce the user to purchase increasing amounts of goods while never reaching the product that was expected – that was supposed to be free. In both instances, the customer service and technical service representatives seemed to be (because of their distinct accents) of the same nationality.

My disability is now at a level where undue stress leaves me bedridden for some days. During that time the opportunity to contemplate various matters becomes available. Learning through analysis of the various transactions happens because there’s a safe time to view the cause and effect scenarios. There’s also time to compare the activity being considered to other similar situations to see where the similarities occur. Those situations where it was more reasonable to simply put the matter behind me and move on become lessons of the past that are like puzzle pieces shoved into a corner that will fit together when more of the picture is available.

What I considered were several factors, namely:

  • Who are the targets of theft
  • What are some possibilities for their being chosen
  • Are there any considerations with regard to how the loss will impact the target
  • Is there a particular identity (race, gender, age, ethnicity, position, location) for how the target is chosen

Those were just a few of the things considered with regard to victim identity. But there were also thoughts about characteristics of the perpetrator.

  • Financial status
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Ethics
  • Inclusion in some type of organization
  • Regard for laws and punishment

With regard to any type of theft or crime, the type of crime attracts certain types of criminals. It’s a bit like looking for the right job. And there are instances where extenuating circumstances beg forgiveness. A prime example is the fictional case of Jean Valjean of Les Miserables. He stole some bread in order to feed his pregnant and dying sister. Had it not been for the compelling circumstances (as well as the economic depression of the day), he probably would not have acted in that way. But what about when the priest regaled him and he chose to steal some pieces of silver and then slip into the night, hoping not to be discovered? The priest gave him all of the silver; Valjean changed because his circumstances were vastly improved. He became a pillar of the community.

So today we still have bank robbers, car (instead of chickens or horse) thieves. People now steal mail in search of some parcel that has street value or various types of checks still sent through the mail. And there are now protocols for making online orders and payments. What I came to realize is that if a hacker gains access to an account where the user has made a purchase, the hacker then has access to the user’s personal identification information, online profile for social media, and a whole series of opportunities to visit mischief on the victim.

What I also came to realize is the typicals of criminals. They have little to nothing and few to no resources of their own that are available to get what they want or need. Whatever is stolen provides them with more wealth in order to gain what they want or to add to their coffers. They do not care about the status of their target. What they realize is the target has more than the perpetrator has, even if it’s minuscule. The access to the item is relatively easy. With proper planning, avoidance of punishment should be easy or attainable. Consequences to the victim are of little consideration; in fact, consequences to the victim are not important at all. The only afterthought is whether they may still be a ripe source in the future.

These are just the beginnings of the thoughts about why people steal. There’s more to say.

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