Must I Return an Item I Accidentally Forgot to Pay For?
Q: I accidentally walked out of a store without paying for an item. Must I fess up?
A: Yes, and be quick about it, says Michael Josephson, the founder of the nonprofit Josephson Institute for Ethics, in Los Angeles. If you’re in the parking lot, dash back inside the store, find a manager, and come clean. “It was an accident, so you’re not a thief, but you should return the item or pay for it.” If it was your child who did the swiping, use the opportunity to be a good role model. Say, “My son took this—I’m sorry, and he wants you to know that he’s sorry, too,” says Josephson. Chances are, you’ll only be out the cost of the item or five minutes of your time.
What if you don’t realize the mistake until you’re at home? If the incident took place at a store you frequent often—or one that you could easily return to in the near future—bring the item (or corresponding dollar value) on your next visit. If you are far away or won’t be returning anytime soon, call and offer to mail the money. Just don’t shrug off the accidental pilfering. As Mike Siemienas, a spokesperson for Supervalu, a retail conglomerate, points out: “One thousand one hundred of our stores average approximately 20 million weekly customers, so if everyone walked off with a 50-cent item without paying for it, we would lose $10 million a week—meaning higher prices for everyone.”