If you’re honest enough to speak up when you’re undercharged…if you never underreport income on your taxes…if you find a wallet and return it with all the cash inside, congratulations! You’re part of a small and exclusive minority.
A new study from Finder.com reveals that lying about money is the American way. More than three-quarters of people surveyed fessed up to having committed dishonest acts for financial gain, mostly without any feelings of guilt or remorse. (A mere 17% said they felt guilty enough to come clean about their actions.)
Lying for profit is the rule, not the exception. The Finder.com study, which polled more than 2,000 American adults, found that roughly four out of five Americans (78%) intentionally lied or acted deceitfully in one way or another for financial gain across eight key categories:
- Pocketing found money (such as in a wallet) rather than handing it over to its rightful owner: 56%
- Keeping quiet when undercharged or given too much change: 52%
- Withholding from a partner the fact that you made certain purchases: 36%
- Illegally downloading online content: 30%
- Misrepresenting your “status” in some way for material gain: 26%
- Knowingly not paying the fair share of a bill: 24%
- Buying something with the intention of using it once and then returning it: 22%
- Withholding financial information on taxes: 17%
The demographics of dishonesty. Men were generally more likely than women to lie. For instance, 36% of men said they have downloaded content illegally, compared with 26% of women, and 22% of men withheld financial information on taxes, versus 13% of women.
Another pattern is that members of Generation Y—adults born between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s—are the biggest liars of the bunch, with that demographic out-lying all other age groups across all categories. In some categories, like illegally downloading content and buying things with the intent to use them once and then return them, Gen Y was leaps and bounds ahead of baby boomers and members of Generation X (born between the mid-1960s and mid-1980s).
It’s probably not surprising that money has a way of bringing out the darker side of human nature, so what does this mean for you?
Expect people to lie or mislead about money. The results of the Finder.com study should give you pause about trusting most people in any situation that involves money—and that level of cynicism could work in your favor, especially if you encounter one of the many con artists who prey on people’s generous nature.
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), 1.1 million people reported fraud last year, with a median loss of $429. The most common type, affecting 350,000 people, was an imposter scam. That’s when thieves pretend to be someone they’re not—often a family member in trouble, a debt collector or a government official—in an effort to deceive victims into giving up money voluntarily.
If someone purporting to be an IRS agent calls and demands a payment or if you get a desperate e-mail from a supposed cousin in prison in a foreign country begging for money to pay a fine, keep this study in mind before you reach for your wallet.
And even if you consider temporarily picking up the tab for a group of people at a restaurant on your credit card for them to pay you back later, be wary and be sure to follow up. It is not uncommon that you will be stiffed, as the Finder.com study indicates.
If you’re among the roughly one in five good Samaritans who plays it straight even when it’s profitable to lie, you’re probably just the type of person that scam artists have in their crosshairs. Beware…and be warned!