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    • Former MSE Wendy
    • By Former MSE Wendy 1st Jul 08, 1:50 PM
    • 868Posts
    • 1,782Thanks
    Former MSE Wendy
    MONEY MORAL DILEMMA: Should Alan give the laptop back?
    • #1
    • 1st Jul 08, 1:50 PM
    MONEY MORAL DILEMMA: Should Alan give the laptop back? 1st Jul 08 at 1:50 PM
    Thanks to MoneySaver Ben Clay for this idea and here's this week's hypothetical situation for you to cogitate on:

    Should Alan give the laptop back?

    Alan went into a shop to buy a laptop, and instead of it ringing up at £399 it was just £3.99. He spotted this at the check-out and was aware of the error but keep schtum. After he'd paid, the manager came up and admited, that the laptop was legally his, but it was an obvious error by a trainee cashier on his first day.

    Click reply to have your say.

    Previous MMDs:
    Should you foot the bill?
    Would you ask for new shoes?

    Thanks to MoneySaver Ben Clay who came up with this in the nerdy note discussion from last week.

    This Forum Tip was included in MoneySavingExpert's weekly email

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    Last edited by MSE Martin; 01-07-2008 at 9:41 PM.
Page 14
  • Gekite
    Think of the poor cashier - he/she may be sacked or have the difference deducted from their salary.
    Originally posted by Henwen
    So you condone such immoral behaviour by the business? Yet not legal and moral practices by individuals!

    Why should Alan 'take on' the sins of the business! Shouldn't you be fighting against the injustice being perpetrated by the business rather than trying to punish Alan for what the business does?

    This is nothing more than blatant emotional blackmail. What the business ends up doing to the cashier isn't Alan's responsibility. But should Alan be held to ransom by the possibility that the business is going to behaviour immorally! But if Alan so wished to make the trainee's fate his responsibility then he could ask what the business intended to do to them. If the reply was as bad as you highlight then he could inform them, that the practice they intend to conduct is immoral, legally dubious (which I suspect many already know) and that in no way should the trainee be held responsible to such a degree because of an innocent mistake, especially SINCE they were NOT properly supervised on their first day. That if any harm comes to the said trainee then he (Alan) will not be pleased and WILL take matters further.

    To be moral, certainly isn't a case of attempting to manipulate or ignore the evidence that one has available, or even to base the judgement on dubious claims of punishment. Why are so many acting immorally in order to get Alan to capitulate with their own pet prejudices! Maybe some don't actually understand what being moral entails? Assuming it's nothing more than the application of some mantra like phrases in a best fit to my feeling type way. The problem here is that even with such phrases, good judgement is also required. And ignoring the evidence to please ones own feelings will not lead anyone to any form of good judgement!

    You went there expecting to pay £399 (and, being a good MSE-fan, after saving up and/or buying from the shop with the cheapest price).
    Originally posted by Henwen
    Emotive blackmail once again, There is no indication that they went there to pay £399, and to be a good MSE they would have tried to haggle the price, so Alan obvious isnt' a very good MSE now is he, as he never tried to haggle before paying. Being good at saving money is more than just shopping at the cheapest store, it also includes knowing ones rights, educating oneself as to what is accepted and what isn't, knowing when your responsibility ends and someone else's begins. In total it's about informing oneself about life rather than trying to bend life and everyone else to ones own set of rather limiting biases.

    Why should you have a windfall at the trainee's expense?
    Originally posted by Henwen
    Fallious, Alan's windfall isn't at the trainee's expense. See above.

    Moneysaving? Definitely in favour. Unfair advantages over individual sales staff? No way. Have a heart.
    Originally posted by Henwen
    Yet more emotive nonsense, what has having a heart to do with accepting a price at the checkout! What unfair advantages does Alan have over the sales staff?
    Last edited by Gekite; 04-07-2008 at 10:55 AM.
  • Gekite
    I am suprised at the amount of people that wouldnt give the laptop back!!!! stealing is stealing on any scale and talking yourself into stealing seems very easy for alot of you!!!!!
    Originally posted by ssgarri4
    This tactic reminds me of reading about how it was decided if a person was a witch or not.

    A person would just point the finger and scream witch at them, this was then taken up by others that unwittingly got caught up in the emotive feelings of such a cry.

    Hasn't our morality moved on since such dark times, or aren't we as civilised as we like to thing!

    IT IS NOT STEALING. I'm not really sure how much more clear it can be put over to you or those like you!

    'Its their mistake' is not an axcuse for stealing. Honesty is something that this world lacks and that most people lack. How infuriating to know that most of you would kick me or anybody else while i was down. ( and if somebody has done that to you , it is not a reason to do it to them) treat everybody how you would love to be treated please please please!!! think!!!!
    Originally posted by ssgarri4
    Sounds like someone that is more out of touch with reality and is suffering because the world isn't in their image.

    Treating others as you would be expected to be treated is an excellent place to start learning about how to be a more moral person. May I suggest you stop calling people criminals before you have evidence to back up such a claim! And further, to stop basing your judgement on such dubious grounds. As I said in an earlier post, being able to apply good judgement is a requirement of being able to be moral. Good judgement is developed from learning from the situation rather than from imposing ones desires onto the situation.
    Last edited by Gekite; 04-07-2008 at 12:36 PM.
  • Gekite
    I'm not saying that - merely that if Alan knows that the price is wrong and he says nothing when he hands over the incorrect amount, whether asked for or not,it's theft.
    Originally posted by boxoffireworks
    The price isn't incorrect, Alan handed over the amount asked of him.
  • Gekite

    When can theft ever be morally right?
    Originally posted by boxoffireworks
    Good point
    Originally posted by andy_hunk
    Actually, as many will have already worked out through the either the course of life, studies, reflection, etc, etc. it can indeed be morally right to steal, or more correctly to, go against the prevailing attitudes and laws of what is to be deemed as stealing.

    I mean you could ask when is breaking the law morally right! When the law is unjust!
  • Gekite
    The key here is that he knows he's been undercharged, and that makes his behaviour dishonest. He would certainly fall foul of s.1 of the Theft Act 1968 :

    A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it.

    It's dishonest, if he knows he has been undercharged and has doubts about what he should do. He appropriates one of the rights of the owner, that is the right to charge the correct price for it.

    Before you ask, I teach criminal law.
    Originally posted by Myken
    I really liked this post as it was a bit more believable, but aren't your just equivocating the two concepts of dishonest here. What does the act define dishonest as being? i.e you call it dishonest, the act says dishonest but the two meanings are not the same!

    Another point is that we don't know at which point Alan knew of the pricing error. It might as easily have been on picking up the receipt, or even only when the manager mentioned it to him. So he wouldn't know as you put it! You assume far too much, not the sign of good law at all. You appear to be using parts of the law and twisting them to suit you own prejudicial stance!

    If he did know at some point before paying then is not mentioning something a dishonest action, in and of itself? Is not mentioning something for gain a dishonest action in and of itself? Careful of the moral maze this leads down. And is this what the act means by a dishonest action! I think you'll find it isn't. What if it didn't actually register? You are assuming that he has wilfully and with fully knowledge set out to defraud the shop of this laptop! From what we are told this is not the case.

    So much for morality and treating other people with consideration, and who one would like to be treated, eh!

    All I can say is that there are a few people that obviously want to be flogged before the trial!

    equivocate : Verb [-cating, -cated] to use vague or ambiguous language in order to deceive someone or to avoid telling the truth.
    Last edited by Gekite; 04-07-2008 at 11:58 AM.
  • Gekite
    i agree with dan
    everyone claims to have morals etc but if it happened to them how many people would honestly speak out .
    Originally posted by robpw2
    Everyone does. Some peoples moral sense is more finely attuned than others, some people have bigger muscles, can do maths better, can spell better etc. etc. Some people just haven't learnt how to apply their moral sense.

    I did when hotel chocolat gave me 20.oo change for a 20 note when i had bought 5.oo worth chocolate i went and told them but i think if it had been me with laptop i may not have been so honest
    Originally posted by robpw2
    The issue with the laptop has nothing to do with being honest or dishonest, he paid the price that was charged for it. The debate over honesty is a rather dishonest attempt to emotional blackmail others into capitulating to one particular outlook. Other dishonest actions include threats of punishment and other such consequences of loss. It is a bankrupt and morally reprehensible attempt to subvert morality to ones own ends. I can only wonder at who came up with it!

    Why is it to be thought of as honest to go around correcting everyone else's mistakes?

    Should I resign my next game of golf because I only won due to my opponent making a few too many mistakes with their ball handling! What does that say about tiger woods! He's made millions out of other peoples mistakes.
    Last edited by Gekite; 04-07-2008 at 12:16 PM.
    • A.Jones
    • By A.Jones 4th Jul 08, 2:03 PM
    • 506 Posts
    • 441 Thanks
    i agree with dan
    everyone claims to have morals etc but if it happened to them how many people would honestly speak out .
    Originally posted by robpw2
    I have morals. But they might be different to other people's morals.

    In this situation, my moral code is that once a deal has been agreed, paid for, and completed, it is final. I personally don't think it is moral for one of the parties to put pressure on the other party to try to change the agreement. I especially don't think it is moral, for example, if the manager tried to pressure me into returning an item by saying that he would fire the trainee, or fine them a week's wages or the cost of the item.

    Other people may have a moral code that if someone makes a mistake, then they should do everything they can to put the other persons mistake right, even if that means they have to take a loss because of it. Some of these people would try to stick to their moral code, but also want or expect something back (a discount, laptop bag) for being "honest". So their actions may be guided by their moral instinct, but they are not following them strictly.

    Other people have the moral code that it is wrong to bargain or ask for a discount. The price someone shows is the price the retailer wants. You can either decide to take it at that price or refuse to buy. If you want it, you have to pay that price. If you try to get a discount, it is no different to taking money from the person selling it to you. So, following their morals, they do not try for a discount.

    There is no single moral code, be it religious, sexual, or financial. That is why we need laws, rather than morals, to ensure everyone behaves fairly. People cannot agree on morals.
  • Karina Marshall
    If the manager hadn't come and spoken to me about it, I have to be honest, I'd probably take it. However, being a coward I'd probably ask for a discount instead
  • pio1

    The way I see is that the world is not a charity and if the store has made a mistake of this magnitude then tough luck.

    What do you get for being moral no where, and as for my concience well everytime i used it i would have a big smile on my face knowing this laptop just cost me £3.99.

    All I want to know is where this store is at!!!!!!!
  • mattarosa
    Of course, he should give the laptop back, or pay the correct price. He knew the price was £399 so obtaining it for £3.99 by not pointing out the error was dishonest, little different from theft.
  • Rocketeer
    It is my understanding from a legal viewpoint that a contract is based on offer and acceptance. The shop offered £3.99 and Alan accepted by handing over payment. Therefore the contract is legally binding and the shop has no right to void it.
  • francesgarrett
    I'm confused
    Not long ago you posted that a large grocery chain had made a mistake in their flyer and had advertised a very expensive bottle of whiskey for less then a quarter of its real price. You Martin advised people to go to the shop, show and insist they honor the price even though it was an obvious mistake. So whats the difference here.
  • Attlee
    Does this help at all?
    Several contributors to this thread are interested in the legal position here. May I try to clarify?

    Some preliminaries. (I can’t say anything briefly – one of the many disabilities of being a lawyer.) First of all, it is always possible to come up with clever legal arguments. Occasionally you manage to persuade the court to do something unexpected. I’ll just try to say what the likely legal position is. In other words, what a court is likely to decide if asked to determine the matter.

    Secondly, many moneysavers here clearly know a bit of law. A few people in this thread have referred to legal principles. But it’s worth being careful about drawing conclusions too confidently until you really know your way around. For example, Rocketeer says that a contract is based upon offer and acceptance, that here there was an offer and acceptance, and that therefore it is a binding contract. Well, Rocketeer’s right that contracts need offer and acceptance. But it’s certainly not true that every offer and acceptance form a legally binding contract. Nor does it follow that a contract can’t be a criminal offence. (Imagine an otherwise valid contract to sell cocaine. Try suing for non-delivery of the cocaine.)

    Thirdly, some people have effectively said that this must be legal because it would be unjust if it was illegal. But the law is surprisingly often unjust, often in ways that protect the rich and powerful (including big businesses) from the rest of us. That’s why I became a lawyer. I’m not saying I agree with it. I’m just saying what the courts would be likely to decide.

    OK. Here’s my analysis.

    First of all, there are two important legal questions. One is: is there a contract? The other is: is this theft? They are separate, though related.

    Is there a contract? I think there probably isn’t.

    As others have pointed out, if there is a contract it is formed at the check-out. There does indeed have to be an offer. The cashier is an agent of the shop. Alan is dealing with the shop through the cashier. We’ve been told that Alan knows there was an error. In other words he definitely knows that the shop, for whom the cashier acts, does not intend to sell the laptop for £3.99.

    It’s not a binding contract if Alan knew, or should have known, that there had been a mistake by the shop or by the cashier.

    (Someone asked for case law. I’ve drawn the words of that previous sentence almost straight from the judgment of Mance J in OT Africa Line v Vickers [1996] 1 Lloyd’s Rep 700 at 703. The classic case is Hartog v Colin & Shields [1939] 3 All ER 566. It’s a laugh. The defendant mistakenly offered 30,000 Argentinian hare skins for sale priced per pound instead of per hare skin. In the circumstances Mr Hartog couldn’t possibly have believed that that was what they had intended. So, despite apparently having entered into the contract at this price, there wasn’t a contract.)

    There are some other tricksy legal arguments that the shop could use. But I think the bottom line is that there probably isn’t a contract.

    Several people have referred to recent examples of what the courts call ‘snapping at an offer’ when something has mistakenly been offered at a very low price. All I can say is that we’d need to look at them individually to work out the legal position for each of them.

    So I think that’s Alan’s position in contract law. If I’m right, the shop could sue Alan for the return of the laptop (in the tort of conversion, or possibly restitution, if you really want to know). Alan could get his £3.99 back, obviously.

    Having a receipt doesn’t change whether or not there was a contract. (Sorry, adouglasmhor.)

    Is it theft? It may be.

    There are five elements of theft. You need all of them for it to be theft. We can safely tick off four of them here without analysing them because (honestly) they aren't controversial.

    (Say if you really want an explanation. And, if you know a bit of criminal law you may be wondering about appropriation. Section 3(1) of the Theft Act 1968, and related case-law, define it extremely widely. The shop’s apparent consent, through the cashier, is irrelevant – Gomez [1993] AC 442.)

    That leaves the fifth element, dishonesty. Dishonesty isn’t a technical term. Whether taking the laptop when clearly knowing of the mistake is dishonest is for the magistrates or the jury to decide. (In fact it requires (i) that it is dishonest according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and decent people, and (ii) that Alan realised this. For any remaining nerds: Ghosh [1982] QB 1053.)

    One consideration (from section 2(1)(a) of the Theft Act 1968) is that it’s not dishonest (and so not theft) if Alan believed he had the right in law to take the laptop.

    Dishonesty is a matter of opinion. It’s up to the magistrates or jury. All I can say is that I think a lot of magistrates and juries - probably most - would call this dishonest. The dishonesty is keeping schtum when he knows the cashier has made a mistake. It’s also worth bearing in mind that magistrates and juries tend to think a bit differently from the sort of people like you and me who hang out on this forum.

    So the bottom line is that I think that Alan runs at least a theoretical risk of a conviction for theft. In practice, whether the shop would take it further, and whether anyone would bother to prosecute, is not very likely.

    But I just don’t think you can correctly say that this is definitely not theft in English and Welsh law.

    xadoc says (I paraphrase) that it’s unlikely that contract law and criminal law would reach different answers. That’s sort of right. Let’s say I’m wrong about the contract, and there is a valid contract. And let’s say it is still theft. The civil court in this situation would simply refuse to enforce the illegal contract. That’s how the courts resolve these conflicts. Hence the example of the unenforceable contract to sell cocaine that I gave above.

    We could get into endless legal arguments about whether the existence of a contract (or otherwise) affects the ‘right in law’ defence to theft. Don’t go there. Really that defence simply comes down to whether the magistrates or jury think it counts as dishonest.

    So, the bottom line. I think there probably isn’t an enforceable contract here. And I think that, in theory, Alan may be guilty of theft. But it is unlikely that it would ever reach court. If it did, I accept that there is a possibility, but not a certainty, that he would get off (in which case it would not be theft). But I think, if prosecuted, he'd run a real risk of conviction.

    And if you’re still awake after that, you’re nearly as sad as me.

    Hope that's of some use…
    Last edited by Attlee; 05-07-2008 at 12:31 PM. Reason: Minor clarification
    • amus
    • By amus 5th Jul 08, 11:40 AM
    • 5,304 Posts
    • 12,593 Thanks
    Simple answer here! The store doesnt mind marking up prices, so Alan shouldnt feel guilty about the store marking down the price!!
    I had a similar thing happen to me at a well known toy store. They only charged me for one of the items instead of two. I didnt go back and didnt feel guilty, especially when after Christmas both items had gone to half price anyway. So essentially the price I paid for one of the items before Christmas would have been the price I paid for both of the items in the sale after Christmas. How can Alan be classed as stealing because the store has marked down the price, wouldnt that mean that stores are stealing from us when they mark up prices?
  • Rocketeer
    Thanks for the reply Attlee, I clearly must have fallen asleep during my law lecture and confirms my decision to pursue a career in a different direction.

    Anyway, I do agree with the main points of your reply including those to be decided by judge and jury.
  • gvs951
    The laptop dilemma
    I am saddened by the views of many that it is fair game to take the lap top. An error is explicable in some instances eg getting wrong change etc, but 3.99 for a 399 laptop is clearly wrong.
    There is no such thing as a victimles crime and this is in my view right on the line for theft.
    I would own up and declare it simply because it would be morally wrong. What if the trainee was to have his salary cut t make up for it - as some waites have to when people walk out of restaurants without paying?
    Sorry, failure to own up is just plain wrong.
  • misha
    it is dishonest according to the ordinary standards of reasonable and decent people

    Hope that's of some use…
    Originally posted by Attlee
    Thanks a lot, Attlee - as I said several pages ago one can employ a multitude of legal arguments and other intricacies - but everyone on this forum knows (directly or deep inside) that this it is WRONG to take the laptop amd are simply trying to justify and explain away both Alan's action and their own either actual past actions or future hypothetic ones.

    It is sad that moneysavers like A.Jones and Gekite spent hours on this topic trying to bury simple and obvious dishonesty under a pile of technicalities. However, I am grateful to Attlee for pulling even that carpet from under their feet. Even law seems in this case on the side of simple morality.

    I hope, Attlee, that my 5 pence won't destroy your reputation as a lawyer by being on the same side with a "scary moralist" like myself. Morals are passe, so yesterday and against our progress into the better and brighter future, aren't they?
    • funnibunni
    • By funnibunni 6th Jul 08, 8:29 PM
    • 10 Posts
    • 6 Thanks
    £3.99 laptop
    Would i point it out ? for several reasons

    1, they shouldn`t put a trainee on tills on thier first day on their own.

    2,computorised till should be programmed to read bar code.

    3,Big store should work on their customer skills & service,acknowledge thier mistake but honour it.

    Just had to write complaint letter to comet re customer service ......yesterday recived £25 gift voucher .....wo hooo
    • zzzLazyDaisy
    • By zzzLazyDaisy 6th Jul 08, 8:59 PM
    • 12,134 Posts
    • 18,762 Thanks
    On a much smaller scale, this actually happened to me in M&S.

    I picked up a top costing £25 but it rang up on the till as £1. I would have been happy to pay the full amount, but the assistant told me that as it had rung up as £1 that was what she had to charge me. So that is what I paid.

    As I left the store, someone was hurriedly removing all the other tops from the rail!
    • Siobhan89
    • By Siobhan89 6th Jul 08, 11:44 PM
    • 6 Posts
    • 1 Thanks
    The laptop is not legally Alans
    Sorry to pick holes in a good moral dillemma but in English contract law the laptop is not Alans as he knew that the cashier had sold him the laptop at an incorrect price and in knowing that and not correcting it he has voided the contract with the shop. Although on the bright side, most shops will probably knock some money off the real price of the laptop to apologise for the mistake and hassle. P.s. I am a law student I'm not just a geek lol.
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