December 19, 2013

Is it OK to Lie to a Mercant for a Discount?

At MoneyBox Matthew Yglesias recently wrote about How To Save Money on Amazon With a Fake Baby.   You can read the article if you want but the summary is that he lied to and claimed he had a fake baby to get the 'Amazon Mom' discount program.   If you are in Amazon Mom you get a 20% discount when ordering 5 Subscribe and Save items compared to the normal 15% discount.    So... lying to Amazon about a fake baby is getting him 5% discount on some purchases.
In a follow up article Matthew claimed that Amazon Gives Thumbs Up to Fake Babies.   I don't really agree with his interpretation.   Amazon explained :""We are using the honor system, and we expect the vast majority of users to be honest.""     Which to me tells me that they expect people to be honest and if you aren't then you are lying to them and ... they didn't say its OK to lie to them.      When they say its on the 'honor system' that means you're not supposed to do it.  Bottom line.

In any case the Amazon Mom example raised the more general thought about lying to merchants for any kind of discount or promotional prices.    Matthew is clearly not the only person doing this.   I assume theres a few folks out there who are lying to Amazon for such a discount.   I'm also sure that Amazon is not the only merchant people lie to.   I would imagine that every day there are people claiming to be older than they are for senior citizen discounts, claiming to be in college when they aren't for student discounts, claiming to be younger than they are for child discounts and so forth.

Is it OK to lie to a merchant for a discount?

No of course its no OK to lie to companies to take advantage of discounts.   Any time you're lying to someone purely for financial gain its not ethical.   This should be a pretty obvious and straight cut case as far as I'm concerned.

I can think of a couple arguments people might use to try and rationalize to themselves doing something like this :

Argument 1: They are a big rich company so its OK to lie to them for a discount cause they can afford it.     It doesn't matter if the company is rich or not, that does not make lying ethical.   By this logic it would be OK for anyone to steal from everyone who has more money than they do.   Do you think its OK for poor people to steal your stuff simply because you have more than they do?   Clearly not.

Argument 2 :  Its not fair that someone else gets a discount and I do not.   It doesn't matter. Promotional discounts are meant to generate business for a company and are not meant to be universally fair.   Any time any company has a sale or discount its not going to be equal opportunity for everyone everywhere.   Thats just how the world works and is not reason to steal or lie or engage in other unethical behavior.

So again, no.. no its not OK to lie to companies for a discount.

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