Spotlight on consumer morality
What's worse? Downloading your favourite TV show illegally or returning a t-shirt you have actually worn back to a shop?
Is fare evading as bad as telling your insurance company you had something stolen when you really lost it?
A Queensland University of Technology researcher has embarked on a study to discover how Australian consumers rank acceptable, questionable, and unacceptable behaviour.
It's no surprise that using stolen credit cards for internet shopping was considered a major no-no.
But Paula Dootson also found that people regarded some illegal activities more acceptable than other things that could be considered dishonest.
Lying about the age of a child in order to get a discount and failing to mention that the waitress had miscalculated the bill in your favour were frowned upon more than illegal internet downloading.
According to her study of more than 300 Australian consumers, Dootson said about 50 per cent believed illegal downloading was unacceptable. However, in some cases, holding that belief didn't stop people from going ahead anyway.
"Illegal downloading was justified on the basis that organisations weren't giving people access," Dootson said.
"They felt it was the organisation's responsibility, and if they weren't going to give access it was completely acceptable to illegally download it".
The legality of other behaviour was less clear, such as signing up for an American iTunes account to get cheaper downloads and access material not sold on the online Australian store.
Doing that is actually illegal.
"They justified it because the organisation was still getting money, so it's better than illegally downloading but they weren't sure the number of laws they were actually breaking," she said.
Dootson said she believed tougher laws were not the solution to make customers more honest, but companies needed to find ways to convince people not to steal. In other words, take them on a guilt trip.
Dootson used the analogy of buying tomatoes at the supermarket self-check out. What could prevent someone from sneakily entering in a cheaper type of tomato to get a discount?
"Maybe something needs to come up on the screen of the self-check out saying you've just denied this supplier with this many dollars that should have gone to them," she said.
Dootson said every person had a different "deviance threshold".
The problem with most consumer deviance is it goes undetected so people don't really feel like they're getting punished for it, which in turn is re-enforcing their behaviours," she said.
An international research project released last year concluded that shoplifting and till errors costs Australian businesses A$2.4 billion ($2.6 billion) each year.
To make up for it, an extra was A$290 passed on to the average household per annum.
Dootson's research will be released when her thesis is published later this year.
How people ranked consumer behaviours based on acceptability (1 = most acceptable, 10 = least acceptable) - do you agree?
1. Using the 4 cent a litre fuel voucher from the grocery store to buy petrol
2. Creating a fake US iTunes account to access and pay for content not available in Australia - illegal
3. Returning merchandise to a store by claiming it was a gift when it was not
4. Saying there are two people staying in a holiday apartment when there are really four - organisational policy violation
5. Illegally downloading TV shows from the internet for free, for personal consumption
6. Lying about a child's age in order to get a lower price - organisational policy violation
7. Not saying anything when the waitress miscalculates the bill in your favour
8. Evading a fare on public transport - illegal
9. Reporting a lost item as 'stolen' to an insurance company to collect the money - illegal
10. Using a stolen credit cards to order goods over the internet - illegal