Why Australians Are Happy To Pirate, Steal And Lie

Why Australians Are Happy To Pirate, Steal And Lie

Australian households currently pay the second highest “honesty tax” in the world at $290 per household per year, levied by retailers to offset the $AU1.86 billion in losses they incur from customer theft.

Thief picture from Shutterstock

Theft is only one type of consumer deviance, which can include behaviours that are against the law, an organisation’s policy, or behaviours that violate normally accepted conduct. An individual’s “deviant behaviour” can vary from one person to the next.

My research exploring consumer definitions of right and wrong has found a number of things can inform what an individual thinks is “deviant behaviour”, beyond what the law or organisational policy states as right or wrong. Consumers then use their own justifications to excuse their actions.

Individuals could look at how prevalent the behaviour is (“everyone else is doing it”), the risk associated with doing it (“I won’t get caught”), what the outcomes will be (“no one is getting hurt”), and if they think it is fair (“the organisation isn’t giving me what I want, they’re making me do this”). Consumers use justifications to let them perform deviant behaviours, without feeling too bad about it. Behavioural economist Dan Ariely calls that the “fudge factor”, in his research on irrational behaviour.

With everyone having different ideas of what is right and wrong, it can lead to disagreements at a societal level. A study examining the extent of these disagreements found that as a society, we can agree on the polar acceptable and unacceptable behaviours, but everything in between is very grey. Here’s a list of behaviours ranked from most acceptable to least acceptable:

  1. Using the 4 cents fuel voucher from the grocery store to buy petrol (benchmark acceptable behaviour)
  2. Creating a fake US iTunes account to access and pay for content not available in Australia
  3. Returning merchandise to a store by claiming it was a gift when it was not
  4. Saying there are only 2 people staying in a holiday apartment when there are really 4
  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
  7. Not saying anything when the waitress miscalculates the bill in your favour
  8. Evading fare on public transport
  9. Reporting a lost item as “stolen” to an insurance company to collect the money
  10. Using stolen credit cards to order goods over the internet

Behaviours were likely to be deemed “acceptable” if the individual did not think anyone was being harmed. This can explain why “not saying anything to the waitress when she miscalculates the bill”, is closer to the unacceptable end of the ranking, because the victim (the waitress) is visible. Most consumers empathise with the waitress, and assume she will have to pay the difference out of her own pocket. Whereas in the scenarios “lying about a child’s age”, or “lying about how many people are in the hotel room”, the victim is the organisation – a big, faceless entity, which is difficult to empathise with.

When people disagree on whether a behaviour is right or wrong, that makes it very difficult for organisations to police. Using an “it’s wrong, don’t do it” approach to deterring deviant behaviour becomes ineffective, because the consumer can respond with: “actually I don’t think it is wrong,” or “I know it is wrong, but here is a justification for why I’m going to do it”.

Disagreements about what a “deviant behaviour” is means consumers will look to others to guide their actions – “what is everyone else doing?” and “are they being rewarded or punished for doing it?” If the consumer is likely to achieve a goal through deviant behaviour, like riding the train for free, or being able to watch a TV show, without getting punished, they are more likely to go ahead with it.

What isn’t helpful in predicting deviant consumer behaviour is the perception of risk. Most consumer deviance goes undetected. Either the organisation doesn’t have the resources to detect and punish it, or it is very hard to detect (e.g. lying). The low perceptions of risk makes deterrence strategies that appeal to the severity of the punishment (“you’ll be fined $500 if you do X”) ineffective if the consumer doesn’t think they will get caught.

These insights suggest organisations should take a tailored approach to deterrence. Deterrence strategies need to move away from appealing to individuals to uphold the law, or stressing the severity of the punishment, and instead work to challenge the justifications commonly used to excuse consumer deviance.The ConversationPaula Dootson is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Queensland University of Technology. She does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


    • 2 isn’t illegal either, you’re breaching TOS, worst cast Apple close your account.

    • It’s not illegal, but that’s the point. It’s meant to be the benchmark acceptable behaviour.

  • 1. Yes, obviously.
    2. Yup!
    3. No.
    4. Maybe, situation hasn’t arisen…
    5. Yes.
    6. Probably (no kins though…)
    7. Yes. (I don’t get the argument about the waitress getting in trouble for this, oh well)
    8. Used to, not so much any more…
    9. Didn’t know that was practical to do… Probably not.
    10. No.

  • They forgot what might be the most common Sydney form of consumer dishonesty after fare evasion and pirating: Staying 7 people to a 2BR unit, to cheap out on rent. (You may think this is victimless, but it’s not. The other residents have to put up with 3-5 extra people using limited facilities such as the gym, pool, etc.), and the owners ultimately have to pay for this through increased needs for maintenance on the common areas of the property such as lifts, due to overuse caused by an excess of residents.

    • Pretty sure that falls under #4: “Saying there are only 2 people staying in a holiday apartment when there are really 4”

  • The line for me between ok/not ok is #7 onwards, although for #7 if the service was terrible I’d revel in not pointing it out.
    But I think that #9 is where it really crosses the line.

  • Why Australians Are Happy To Pirate, Steal And LieLie…? WTF…?
    Why don’t you just call us all friggin convicts and be done with it…!
    Whilst ‘yer at it qualify the research against other countries too…

  • Not sure about this, worked for Xoles for 10 years. i can asssure you they account for the theft and are reimbursed by insurance companies ,etc. And the theft CAN be quantified and tracked with inventory management systems such as SIM. stock in vs stock out + sales, etc. I think you need to add this to your research because if there is no loss for them why are we paying this “honesty Tax” or whatever it is.

  • 1. Using the 4 cents fuel voucher from the grocery store to buy petrol (benchmark acceptable behaviour)

    Of course that’s acceptable behaviour for the consumer. What isn’t acceptable however, is the artificial increase in fuel prices done just so they can make these fuel voucher deals.

  • Deterrence strategies need to move away from appealing to individuals to uphold the law, or stressing the severity of the punishment, and instead work to challenge the justifications commonly used to excuse consumer deviance.The Conversation

    Not one mention about changing antiquated business models that limit the availability and utility of your products, inflates your prices, aggravate your customers. The fault, of course, all lies with the consumers.

    “Because iocane comes from Australia, as everyone knows, and Australia is entirely peopled with criminals, and criminals are used to having people not trust them, as you are not trusted by me, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you.”
    — Vizzini, The Princess Bride

  • Seriously.

    When more than 50% of your population is breaking a law, don’t you think it’s time to change the law, rather than increase the penalties?

    “Illegally downloading TV shows from the internet for free, for personal consumption” … Could your language be more loaded?

    It gives you as much credibility as those surveys that claim people like free-range eggs when they ask “Do you like eating eggs that are laid by chickens that are kept in torturous conditions for their entire life and never allowed to see sunlight or fresh water?”.

    • No. If it was legal to pirate TV shows & movies – no would pay for them. That means the writers, producers, actors all get no income. That means no more TV shows, music or movies will be made.

      More than 50% of the people speed – do you abolish speed limits as well?

      • Don’t think he was suggesting to legalise piracy, Probably more along the lines of increasing availability within Australia

      • yeah, because 80 on the monash is REALLY realistic…

        luckily the monash has corners, because on the weekends, i’d have a nap!

        but, increase availability of tv shows / games or have a fair price
        increase speed limits to something realistic
        or increase fines and make more $$$

        what do you think they would like more?

      • No one is going to kill people in fatal traffic accidents if they download a TV series. Maybe they could if they downloaded a car though.

      • Downloading TV shows and movies for personal use is not a criminal offence at present under Australian Law. It only constitutes a civil wrong. To refer to it as illegal is incorrect. Unauthorised downloading would be the correct wasy to refer to it.

  • Perhaps these ‘deviant behaviors’ that are against ‘societal norms’ are actually neither of those things, if the majority of society is doing them?

  • I think these are a little out of order. #3 & #4 are more acceptable than downloading Game of Thrones, and #8 (evading public transport fares) is only two places removed from using a stolen credit card? Holy crap.

  • I think that not only number 2 & 5 are not illegal but we almost have a ‘moral obligation’ to do these due to the fact content behemoths simply RIP-OFF aussies for not reason other than the fact THEY CAN.
    These are products that do not even involve any physical product delivery so there is NO REASON why prices in Australia should be different than the US, after accounting for currency conversion.

    Neither the regulator nor the government are doing much to stop this rort so we are basically left to fend for ourselves. Until they do something about this, so called ‘pirating’ is totally legit and should be even encouraged.


  • “Why the rest of the world expect to rip off Australia and get away with it.”

    This is the alternate title for the article. Not sure why they went with this one tbh could of gone either way.

  • Why is #1 questionable? They give you the 4c voucher after spending $30+ to pay for the petrol. I’m confused.

  • I think #1 is meant to be a neutral option. #1 and #10 set the boundaries of the scale. I don’t think they were implying that #1 was wrong, illegal or anything like that

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