I may have discovered the perfect crime. I can’t tell you who exactly is committing it, how exactly he’s doing, or who exactly it hurts, but I know someone, somewhere could be getting rich from it.
Last month, a charge for a hotel stay was $0.75 higher on our credit card bill than on the hotel receipt. Most people wouldn’t notice the difference. Of those who would, few would bother to take the time to complain about the charges.
As soon as I discovered the discrepancy, I imagined the hotel clerk or someone in accounts payable at the hotel or in billing at the credit card company – someone, somewhere – adding $0.75 to every transaction and routing the money to his or her personal account. Someone could make a lot of money that way and, unless someone else notices the large number of small deposits (or unless the thief finds a way to change the credit to cash), he may never get caught.
My husband, who is the primary cardholder on that account, also immediately concluded that someone was committing fraud, so he thought it was worth the time to complain. The credit card company credited the $0.75 to our account but does not intend to investigate the discrepancy; the investigation would cost more than they’d recover.
So who loses? We got $0.75 back. If the thief works for the hotel (rather than the credit card company), the charges would be spread across several credit issuers, and with only a small percentage of cardholders taking the time to complain, each company loses a negligible percentage of its profit.
Maybe someone made $0.75 by overcharging our card; maybe it was a clerical error and my imagination is running wild. Nevertheless, if someone has discovered the perfect crime where no one loses (much — and nobody is willing to prosecute), I feel we all have lost somehow.
Maybe it’s false nostalgia, but I see the potential for such “victimless” theft as a symptom of the loss of personal connections caused by a cultural shift from friendly face-to-face conversation between local businesspeople and their regular customers to impersonal, even automatic, telephone or Internet transactions. It’s much easier on an employee’s conscience to steal from numbered accounts used by thousands of travelers who pass through a hotel than to steal from Jimmy Smith, father of Jane and Bobby, who lives next door to his best friend’s aunt. Our computerized way of doing business may be more efficient (then again, it may not), but it is far more likely to encourage us to take advantage of each other than to foster respect and understanding in business.