Would You Consider This Stealing?

OK, before I start, let me say that I’ve already made a decision of how to resolve the situation, but I just want to know what the other Dopers think, and why. Here’s the story: Sunday afternoon, I went grocery shopping; this was major shopping for the week, for a family of five. I had two cases (24-can packs) on the bottom “shelf” of my shopping cart, so the rest of the groceries would fit in the cart. When I got to the check out, I said to the cashier “Do I need to put my sodas up on the belt, or can you just ring them?” She said I didn’t need to put my sodas up, and confirmed that I got two cases of the Pepsi products that were on sale. When I got home, and was inspecting my reciept, I noticed that she had failed to charge me for the sodas. My dilemma was that I was afraid if I told the store manager what happened that the cashier might get in trouble. But I ultimately decided that I wouldn’t feel right about just keeping them if they weren’t paid for, so I called the store and asked for the manager. He told me to write on the receipt which kinds of sodas I’d gotten, then bring the receipt next time I come in, and they’ll ring me up at the information desk. The turd didn’t even thank me for my honesty.

So, if I had just kept the drinks and said nothing, would it have been stealing?

I don’t know if it’s stealing or not, but I don’t go out of my way if the cashier forgot to ring something up. I try to catch any mistakes before I leave the store, but once I’m home, I don’t bother. I do the same if I bought something and then can’t find it when I get home.

But I’ve never had either scenario happen with anything more expensive than a case of soft drinks, so I don’t know what I’d do if it was something expensive.

Yes, I’d consider it stealing. Maybe ‘stealing’ is a little strong, since it wasn’t intentional, but I can’t think of another, more appropriate term.

The manager is clueless. Honesty like that is too rare and ought to be commended.

Yes, of course, it’s stealing.
You could argue that it only became a crime once you realised that you hadn’t paid, but you appear to think that there is some ‘contest’ between you and the store. If you ‘win’ free goods does that make you some sort of a hero?!

Ah, it’s not a ‘crime’ unless there’s a certain sum of money involved. :smack:
What happened to morals?

Sorry - the second quote in my last post was from DeadlyAccurate
(not norinew)

I never said it wasn’t a crime. I said I didn’t bother doing anything about it when it happened.

And I have morals. They just aren’t the same as yours.

Once you realize you have something that you didn’t pay for, it’s stealing, even if it’s not your fault. So even tho the manager was quite unprofessional, you did the right thing.

A note to corporate headquarters might not be inappropriate…

If it is a crime, and you don’t do anything about it, your morals certainly are different from mine.

You mentioned that it might be different if it was an expensive item.
How much money would be involved to stir you to return it (and why would that affect your moral code)?

Would it be stealing if you didn’t get a detailed line item receipt proving they failed to ring up the soda? Would it be stealing if the computer was incorrectly programmed to place a $0 price on the items? In both cases, the customer walked out with free soda, same as our OP, due to a mistake made by a grocery employee.

At some point your responsibility to make sure others do their jobs correctly ends. norinew informed the cashier about the soda, that is where her responsibility ends, it is the cashier’s job to ring it up correctly.

Return it? It’s not as if the product was deliberately stolen. A good faith effort was made to purchase the product, but due to error on the part of the store, that purchase wasn’t processed correctly. I would go back and pay for it before I’d just return it.

Before I answer, let me answer your question with one of my own. How cheap would something have to be before you wouldn’t bother with it? Would you call them about a $0.25 pack of gum they forgot to ring up?

Now, to answer your question, I don’t know. It’s not something I’ve thought about. Like I said, I also let things go when I paid for them and didn’t get them. It would probably depend on the difficulty of getting back to the store (I’d be more likely to go back to the convenience store a block away if I noticed an unpaid for $0.25 pack of gum than if the same situation occurred at the grocery store 2 miles away).

If I were in norinew’s situation, I probably would’ve tried to pay over the phone by credit card. I think norinew should be commended for her honesty, because she wasn’t obligated to call them and I think the store manager should’ve been nicer about the situation. If I were the manager (or the owner), I would’ve said not to worry about it because it was our fault.

It is SO not stealing. norinew made a good-faith effort to have the transaction go as scheduled. The store failed to keep up their end of the transaction. In no way do they get to impose a positive obligation on norinew’s time or energy by failing to uphold their end of the transaction.

Awhile ago, I had something similar happen, in which we got home and discovered that we had two extra containers of ice cream that we’d not purchased – apparently, the person in front of us in line had left her ice cream in its bag at the checkout counter, and we’d grabbed it without intending any harm. I called the store to tell them we had the ice cream and left a message with them; they never called back; we ate well.

Stealing involves a deliberate effort to gain property through illicit means. If someone gains property unintentionally, then they’re not stealing.

I do think in a case like this, it’s good karma to make a modest effort to pay for the product afterwards, as norinew did. If it were stealing, you’d be required to go to just about any inconvenience to reimburse the store for the product. Since it wasn’t stealing, you don’t have any duty to undergo any inconvenience for their error; any steps you take to pay the store are above and beyond what ethics require.


“The manager is clueless. Honesty like that is too rare and ought to be commended.”

I disagree. I expect people to be honest. I’m honest with them!
Daniel said, "It is SO not stealing. norinew made a good-faith effort to have the transaction go as scheduled. The store failed to keep up their end of the transaction. "

It became stealing when she made the conscious decision to keep something she knows she didn’t pay for. Would I make a special trip? Under these circumstances, probably not. But I’d straighten it out the next time I went into the store.

Interesting conclusion.

Let’s posit a clothing store. You’re trying on a pair of pants and decide not to buy them. You put your own pants back on and leave the store. Upon getting home you discover that you’ve accidentally put on the pants of another person which look just like your pants. In the pants pocket is a wallet containing $1000. You keep the money.

Are you a thief?

Now reverse the situation. Instead of finding a wallet in the wrong pants, you lose your wallet with the $1000 in it. You never get it back.

Is the person who kept your wallet a thief?

I think it should be pointed out that norinew did NOT make the conscious decision to keep the item she didn’t pay for. Just the opposite, in fact. I don’t want people to get her mixed up with me and think she’s the one they think is amoral.

Otto, in your example, YOU’RE the person who made the mistake, not the store. Since you made the mistake, the onus is on you to correct it. Big difference.

Kalhoun, how much inconvenience are you obligated to suffer in order to correct this mistake?


Otto, we’re talking about a person who engaged in a transaction with a company, and the company bungled the transaction in the favor of the customer. Not a person who found a wallet in a random pair of pants.

At the time of the transaction, all parties were fully aware of the content of the transaction (norinew told the cashier about the soda) and all parties were satisfied that the transaction was complete. If norinew knew at the time that the soda was missing, then the ‘stealing’ folks would have a place to start from.

Aside from whether it’s stealing, I had a similar experience and they didn’t bother to thank me for pointing out their error. This after several attempts to let them know they were greatly undercharging me, with three employees saying they were not, and my saying yes they were. When they finally confirmed I was in fact correct, they just rang me up.

You know, I don’t think people should always be congratulated for doing what they should be doing – being honest – but geez, a little “Wow, thanks for pointing that out to us” would have been nice. From what I could tell afterwards, they still weren’t going to bother changing the programming in the register, so everyone after me probably got the el cheapo incorrect price.

There seems a very simple answer to this. Next time you visit the store, just tell the cashier “Last time I was in here you forgot to righ up a couple of 12 packs. Here’s a 10 spot.”


So if you found out when you got home that the store overcharged you, you wouldn’t complain since you accepted the transaction was complete when you paid? If your premise is to be taken, it has to work both ways.

Take it to a different venue. Suppose you found $1 Million deposited in your bank account. You did nothing fraudulent to place that money there. Are you free to spend it even if the bank doesn’t notice the mistake?

Telemark, here’s the deal: whoever makes the mistake is responsible for doing the work to correct it, if they want it corrected.

If the store overcharges me, I’m perfectly welcome to go back to the store and get my money back. If they ever want my business again, they’ll check their books in a timely fashion to discover the mistake; if they don’t want my business, they can lollygag about doing it, do it only at the end of the day when they’d check their books anyway, etc. But when they become aware of the mistake, if I’m there asking for my money, they’re obligated to correct it.

If, at the end of the day, they discover that their drawer is over by $100, they’re NOT obligated to go through their records until they find out which customer was overcharged, cross-reference to the check the customer paid on, and call the telephone number on the check.

My mistake? My responsibility to get it corrected. Their mistake? Their responsibility to get it corrected.

Let’s say, indeed, that I found $1 Million deposited in my bank account. I’m not free to spend it, of course: spending it would entail taking it out of the bank. That’s an intentional action. That’s stealing.