The Most Common Things People Steal

Do you consider yourself to be an honest person that would never steal?  I am sure that most of us would like to believe that this is indeed the case.  We look at those who steal as evil criminals that need to be punished.  However, although we all know that stealing a car is wrong, we tend to justify  taking smaller items and do not consider it to be stealing.  In fact, sometimes avoiding paying for small things is actually celebrated as being frugal.  Indeed, during these tough economic times, the line between being extremely frugal and stealing is slowly being erased.

Below, I have identified six common scenarios in which normal, everyday, taxpaying citizens often resort to a debatable form of stealing.  Now before I go any further, I would like to say that this is not any kind of morality post–I am not here to judge anyone and I would be the first to admit that I have committed more than one of the following “offenses”.  Instead, I thought it would be fun to laugh at how some of us (including me) have allowed ourselves to justify doing something that we would normally consider to be wrong.  I have included some actual quotes that I received from my co-workers, friends, and family when I discussed this topic with them.

Taking an extra newspaper from a vending machine.

Common reasons this is done:  1.  You need an extra set of coupons.  2.  A family member or you are featured in the newspaper.  3.  You plan to sell the extra copies (I picture the scene from the movie With Honors in which Joe Pesci’s homeless character takes the entire pile of newspapers and sells them by shouting fake headlines).

Justifications: “Just too easy not too”  “The newspaper companies make loads of profit.”  “This is payback for all the times I have been ripped off by those snack machines in which the candy bar or chips gets stuck and it never falls.”

Reality of Situation: You are not hurting the newspaper companies (they are in enough trouble without you stealing their product).  Instead, you are just stealing from the poor machine vendor.

Helping yourself to a towel or two from a hotel.

Common reasons this is done: Guests get lost in a “feeding frenzy” of taking all the shampoo, soap,  tissues, pens, hand lotion, extra rolls of toilet paper, and shower caps they can get and get a little carried away.  Also, if the towel has the name of the hotel on it, the towel becomes an instant souvenir.

Justifications: “The price of the room is jacked up assuming I will take a towel.” and “They will eventually throw the towels away once they are used too many times.:

Reality of Situation: It is okay to take the shampoo and other toiletries.  Taking towels, bathrobes, linens, light bulbs, and batteries from remote is just pure stealing.

Getting those last gulps/sips of your favorite soft drink or coffee at the convenience store before you put on the lid and pay for it.

Common reasons this is done: You are extremely thirsty/tired and want to get your money’s worth.

Justifications: “I am paying $1.89 for a 20 oz cup when I can often get a 12-pack of cans for about the same price, so I am going to take a couple of liberties.

Reality of Situation: Fountain Soda (and coffee is not that far behind) is often the most profitable item on a restaurant’s menu–even with free refills.  On this topic, I say that it is not really stealing unless you sit there and refill several times.

Taking a handful (or more) of  Splenda, ketchup packets, napkins, and salt packets whenever and where ever they are available.

Common reasons this is done:  Why pay for something that you can get for free?  “I always take extra napkins just in case I spill something”

Justifications: “The availability of these items are included in the markup of the price of the food/drink.” “If they really cared how much you take, they would not leave them unattended”

Reality of Situation: Guess how these restaurants/stores justify marking up their prices?  I guess I would draw the line with the rule of 5 (which I just made up).  Taking more than 5 more of an item than you intend to use with the product you bought is where in my mind being a little frugal become being a little criminal.

Making it a “Double Feature” by sneaking into a second movie.

Common reasons this is done: You notice as you are leaving the movie theater that another movie that you really want to see is just about to start and you have nothing better to do on a rainy Saturday.

Justifications: I just spend $8 on a soda and another $6 for a popcorn, I need to get my money’s worth!” “The theater is half empty anyway, it’s not like they are losing money by me taking up some space.”

Reality of Situation: Does the director, producer, or boom mic operator care if you paid to see a competitor’s movie and now want to see the movie that they worked on for weeks for free?  Nope.  For the record, I believe that sneaking beverages/snacks into movies is not wrong, even when theaters have posted signs prohibiting this practice.

Taking home copy paper (and other office supplies) from work for non-work use.

Common reasons this is done: 1.  Children need school supplies.  2. You ran out of paper for your personal computer

Justifications: 1.  Employee disgruntled with their job   2. Office supplies viewed as a fringe benefit 3. The company wastes so much paper anyway with their pointless cover sheets for the TPS reports, they obviously don’t care about their use of paper.  4.  “Since the company probably gets a big discount for ordering in bulk, its really not a big deal.”

Reality of Situation: Unless you are stealing a red stapler, it is wrong to take supplies for non-work reasons.

Three more modern day scruples to consider

1.  Is it okay to recharge your cell phone every day at work, so you never waste electricity at home?

2.  Would you return a dress/shoes/tie that you only had to wear once for a funeral or wedding?

3.  Do you download music without paying for it?

Since they say confession is good for the soul, why not share your stories of crime?

Where do you draw the line in what you bring home from a hotel?

Are there items on my list that you do not consider stealing?
Leave me a comment an let me know!  Using fake names and/or a alias is welcome and encouraged to protect the guilty :)

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43 Responses to The Most Common Things People Steal

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  2. Toy Kitchen says:

    What an honest post. But you’re right many of those just aren’t seen as stealing. That’s the whole idea of perception vs. reality

  3. Philip says:

    I was good until I got to this one “Is it okay to recharge your cell phone every day at work, so you never waste electricity at home?”

    These iPhones just don’t hold their charge for more than a day and it is easier to let it sit on the charger in the office on my desk and not worry about plugging it in except when I am home on the weekends.

    • Luke says:

      Right. I think motivation is the key on the cell phone issue. I charge mine at work because I am at work and it needs to be charged. Lacking the ability to route the power from my house to my office, I plug it in and don’t worry. Also, I would tend to think that the actual cost is negligible.

      And if we’re going to split hairs about costs like that, then I guess one could also make the point that if you hit the bathroom and aren’t being perfectly expedient about everything you’re doing (and one-sheeting it), then you’re also stealing.

      Contrarily, if someone intentionally does not charge several items at home and brings them to work and charges them there in order to save money, then that’s probably wrong. And stupid.

  4. Extreme John says:

    As soon as I saw the Splenda packets it reminded me of the trip I took to 7-11 earlier today when a woman loaded here pockets up with a bunch of sugar packets than carried 3 to the counter and asked if she could pay for them.

    I just shook my head.

  5. Invadah says:

    Wow. You consider this stuff stealing? This is “taking small cheap items that no one gives a damn about” stealing. I understand it’s “wrong” to steal people’s personal items, I don’t do that. But this article is VERY inaccurate when it comes to describing what REAL thieves take. 😉

  6. oogleboogle says:

    I print things off at school where it is free of charge and copy and a few other school supplies have been lifted..

  7. MsStealEvrythingSorryImBrokelol says:

    i save all kinds of money…ive done all those examples except the newspaper thing…maybe this sunday ill do that….

    ive taken evrything from hotels. including blankets, blow dryers, radios and all the fun small things…

    at fast food places, sometimes i just have an old cup saved and go refill while its busy….or not busy im kinda gutsy…

    if i go shop at a store, ill walk around and enjoy as many goodies as i desire….like chips or soda, just kinda open it enjoy some leave the rest. (or trash)

    o like at walmart, i just order a pound or two of the hot chicken, and we walk around the store eating it….
    haha i know this is really bad….sorry yall

    some times i just go to the dollar store and buy $10 or $15 dollars worth of stuff..but end up stuffing $20-$50 dollars worth of stuff in my bag :(

    im done sharing this is crazy hahaha

  8. mark says:

    i download music without paying and i make regular visits to my dads wallet

  9. Kleptomaniak says:

    I am a t4eif. Sorry to say but it is true. I steal energy drinks, candy, movies, games, a TV (score), garden plants, and ot4er stuff i can’t even remember. All of 4is is stolen only, and I mean only, from Wal-Mart. T4e people at Wally World don’t make comissions, or anyt4ing and its far from employ owned so I’m only “4urting t4e corrupt business people w4o 4ave put t4ousands of Mom & Pop stores outta business. I t4ink of it more as a kinda F-you to t4e big guns.

  10. Stephen says:

    I steal on a daily basis & there are no ‘moral issues’ with it. Survivial above all else…

    • Luke says:

      So you steal bread and water… Survival, right?

      No need to steal anything expensive because that’s not survival, that’s just greed.

  11. Stephen says:

    Taking tons of stuff from work is easy but the grocery stores are where the real boondoggle is. At least 6K in food this past year, haven’t spent but $10 on food this year & I will never (if at all possible) pay for food or anything I can steal. I learned this from Wall Street, they are not accountable, neither am I.

  12. mike burns says:

    We are morally obligated to download music off the internet. The RCA gets draconian punishments against little people that far exceed the crimes. Downloading is the only way to get back against them.

    If you’re not stealing from the RCA you’re on their side. Download music today!

  13. Whitey Bulger says:

    I loved this article. I must admit, however, that I am a career criminal. No, not small things. I was in federal prison for defrauding banks of millions. Did my year or two in a country club and got out. I don’t feel guilty one little bit and never will. I hate banks. After everything that has happened to this country in the past five years I am only sorry I didn’t take more. The best part of my story is that I got a light sentence by paying full restitution before I went to court. Of course I stole all that money too, while I was out on bail. Yep…I’m proud of that too. I’m now comfortably retired, the statute of limitations on my crimes long expired. Everytime I get my credit card bill I just laugh, knowing I am paying the bank with money I stole from them years ago. For those of you that worry about steaing Splenda, don’t! I actually buy all that stuff now, having stolen more than enough to pay for all it it a million times over!

  14. ian james says:

    You forgot about the boys down at the bank key-stroking credit onto the balance sheets of all their masters, their friends and their own, and entering it as a liability on the public’s /taxpayer’s/indentured debt slave’s balance sheet. With this credit they can siphon real value from the real economy by making massive frontrun trades against their own clients, milk any currency or stock arbitrage opportunity for every penny they can squeeze from it, create 100 fold layers of leveraged, toxic derivatives and sell them to your pension plans and any other chumps who feel guilty about committing the crime of the century when they sneak into a movie. And when food and energy costs run so high that the poor and chiseled-away- middle class public cannot afford the interest payments (via federal income tax) on this credit, they take the liberty of doing it all again. To the writer of this article, shop lifting on the level you speak of is a natural behavior caused by the aforementioned and can be blamed entirely on those who created the conditions for it, including yourself with the very writing of this article. You really want to do something about moral hazard? Stop writing this kind of comatose inducing fluff.

    • jojo says:

      WORD. kinda. Still don’t want to stoop to the banksters’ sins, even on a miniscule level. But then I’m the kind that worries about reparations to indigenous and slave descendants.

  15. J says:

    I’m in the same boat. Each time I visit Taco Bell, I take a few more sauce packets than I know I’ll need so I can use them at home. Never thought about how that’s stealing from the franchise owner.

  16. This is insane says:

    Relative Morality, where does it end? You can go slippery slope if you like, kind of like a gateway drug to more crime. Can it be that Japan after their tsunami showed more moral fiber than the US after our Katrina? Yes. As long as we keep teaching our kids relativity we will keep this once great nation away from greatness.

  17. John says:

    How can taking an extra sugar or sweetener packet be stealing? Every time I go through a drive-thru I get 5 -10 packets of ketchup and I don’t use or ask for ketchup. When I ask for salt (1 packet please) I ussually get 4 – 5 or more. If it’s an item that is controlled then it’s stealing; it is not stealing if the item is left in the open for you to take!

    • James says:

      It’s an interesting question – can one steal a free item? Could anyone be successfully prosecuted for stealing salt or ketchup packets? There is an implied limit to how much one should take, I agree, but there is no explicit legal limit.

  18. Old Boomer says:

    If I take a roll of toilet paper home from work is it any different than waiting until I get to work in the morning to use the toilet there instead?

  19. Balgard says:

    Uh my cell phone is my job so why wouldnt I charge it at work ? In todays world smartphones are both work and play.

  20. jojo says:

    I am totally ok with this in fast food outlets ever since they started having us dispense our own drinks. It is not so cool at the convenience store, though I bet I have slightly overfilled and don’t want it running down onto my hand as I am putting the lid on. Then I think that sip is ok. What is not okay in either situation is to bring the empty cup back on a different visit and filch a “refill” for free.

  21. LA says:

    My daughters always load up on the “fancy” ketchup from Whataburger when they visit. It’s like they think it will soon go out of production. Each time after they leave, I open the fridge, and wonder where I’ll put my fruit.

    I admit I’ve never thought of the advantage of charging my electronic devices at work. I’m led to wonder what the actual value of that is and marvel that the IRS hasn’t found a way to tax that behavior. Line 1,032. Do you have a cell phone? Line 1,033. Multiply your phone number times .0000+ your area code! Add to estimated tax for air. This, plus all else you have, is what you owe. Please remit…

  22. Chris Negretti says:

    Because half of the movies the put out now a days is crap. If it’s a good movie I buy it, if it’s from a director/producer etc etc that I trust i’ll take the crap shoot and pay to see it in the theater, more often over the years I wind up on “that was a total waste of money”.

  23. Chris Negretti says:

    Also, more and more of the BETTER movies aren’t in the theater and are either released free and legally OR only available via DVD, streaming etc for a much more reasonable price then the same recycled crap the biggest studios churn out.

  24. Scott says:

    Linens like towels and sheets are generally washed and reused. If you steal those, the hotel has to replace them. Toiletries like shampoo and soap and usually thrown away (or donated) when left behind so there’s no theft involved when taking those.

    So yes, if you’ve ever used a towel at a hotel, you’ve probably used one stained with other fluids not yours 😉

  25. Chris says:

    Imagine if everyone were as scrupulous as this article expects – beginning with government not debasing the dollar, and not removing rules that keep the financial sector accountable and honest. IMO the widespread criminality coming our way will be a trickle down effect of the criminality that has been happening at the top.

  26. Rahul Narayanan says:

    my stupid classmate who sits right next to me in my school steals all my things.

  27. Luke says:

    Pens aren’t stolen. They are a universal global commodity. I’ve left as many as I’ve taken. And I’m talking about the cheap crappy pens, not some nice Monte Blanc or whatever. If you steal something nice, then you’re an a-hole. Those little bic pens float all around the universe. Take a pen, leave a pen. :-)

  28. Luke says:

    I saw a cool glass at a restaurant and I wanted it so I asked the server if I could buy it. She told my gf to stick it in her purse because a) they don’t sell them, b) they were a limited time thing and c) they break all the time.

    Stealing? Probably…

  29. Luke says:

    You didn’t think that stealing music was stealing?…

    I think office paper is justifiable though. (Even though I know I’m wrong.)

  30. Felicia says:

    When I buy a fountain drink, I will usually take a sip of it *before* I fill my cup, just to make sure the water to syrup ratio isn’t way off. Those machines malfunction once in a while, and I believe this isn’t stealing as long as I don’t drink like half the cup under the guise of testing the product. But this isn’t really what you were getting at anyway, I don’t think.

  31. Naspa says:

    I smuggled: Three traffic cones (One large & two small), a No Trespassing sign, two Mitsuwa shopping carts, a McDonald’s drink machine Coke label, a mini-fire extinguisher, lots of window screens, lots of nails, some extension cords, some crates, a hose, a couch cusion, two brooms, some plastic chairs, some toy vehicles, a signal flare, an exit sign, lots of chalk, Dr. Oz’s mail (three times [mostly porn], also his wife’s jeans), a roll of toilet paper, bags of chips, giant bottles of water, beef jerky, spray paint & silicone. Also, I download music, watch movies & shows, read books & play games for free illegally. There’s more but I can’t really remember. If they’res anyone who has taken more than me, speak up now.

  32. DiceRoll says:

    I went to a good old English pub for a Sunday lunch. Both myself and my lawyer friend had a giggle and took an unused candle from the table. I see the candle as a consumable just like ketchup and napkins. My husband thinks that both my friend and I are “pathetic”. I simply think that I have a candle and he doesn’t but I can’t help but care what he thinks and wonder whether he has a point.

  33. Kevin says:

    When I was really young, I would always be tempted to use those tiny hand sanitizers from the travel section in stores. I was a shy kid though, and I would never do it unless my friends did it with me.

    Some big department stores have big travel size sections, which basically acts as a free sample area (not literally). The travel section at my local Target is a mess, and most of the stuff has been used. They also do not contain safety seals to prevent tampering. Today, I saw these 2 guys (probably late teens) who were applying the mini deodorant sticks. That, and the other most common thing I see being sampled are lotions and hand sanitizers.

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