Stealing from the Till
Take stuff from work. And goof off on the company time. I wrote this at work. They're paying me to write about stuff I steal from them. Life is good.
It can be as minor as stealing pens to as major as budgeting an entire chunk of the company to fund your own private island. How acceptable the crime depends on, of course, narrative focus
and the relative power difference between the thief and the victim. If you work at a horrible, soul-sucking job, then it's "okay" to take money out of petty cash to help cover the bills, but your boss wiring money to an off-shore account is not. Large scale schemes to defraud people are almost always seen as a worse crime than other kinds of theft not just because of the number of people ripped off but because of the breach in trust.
The legal term for this sort of behavior is embezzlement
. It is such an ugly word, though.
A subtrope of White Collar Crime
. Compare Stealing from the Hotel
. Not to be confused with
stealing something from Till Lindemann
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- Astérix in Switzerland starts out with a corrupt Roman prefect who's only sending a few coins of the taxes he's collecting in Gaul, keeping the rest for himself. However, Caesar apparently saw something was wrong, and he sent a inquisitor to check the books. The inquisitor is then poisoned by the prefect, and Getafix is called in for help, but the cure is a flower that grows in Helvetia, sending Asterix and Obelix on another adventure.
- Randall admits to doing this in one of the Clerks comic books.
- Thug Boy in Empowered used to make a living working as a Dumb Mook for various supervillains, stealing their expensive gadgets and ebaying them after the villains got caught. Til they steal from the wrong guy...
- In The Cheat, a rich socialite who is tired of her husband's penny-pinching ways steals the money from the Red Cross charity she administers and tries to use it in a get-rich-quick scheme. It turns out to be a bad idea.
- Sue Ellen's 'borrowing' from petty cash and her subsequent attempts to repay it before the theft is noticed drives a large chunk of the plot in Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead.
- George Bailey is falsely accused of this in It's a Wonderful Life.
- Most of the plot of Office Space revolves around a trio of friends who attempt to do this to the company that screwed them over.
- The Mickey Rooney movie Quicksand has him as a naive auto mechanic who wants to impress a girl with expensive tastes. So he borrows twenty dollars from the till. Then he learns that his tightwad boss has decided to run an audit early this month, well before payday. Each thing the mechanic does to try to fix his mistakes just digs him in deeper, until at the climax of the film he's fleeing to Mexico to avoid a murder rap.
- Road House (1989). The bartender is literally stealing from the till (cash register) until Dalton fires him. Too bad he's the son of the local crime boss...
- A major subplot of Say Anything is Mr. Court stealing money from the clients of his nursing home.
- In Casino the mafia bankrolls a Casino in order to fleece it. The skimmers take offence about their own operation being in turn skimmed off the top.
- In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Dolores indicates that she borrowed from the bar's till for Eddie's sake. She is adamant that he restore the money before her boss checks the books.
- The Cold Open of Psycho follows Marion Crane as she steals from her place of employment and escapes to Bates Motel. Then she meets Mother.
- The title character of Marnie is a serial thief, preying on one employer after another.
- After waking up from coma, Durant in Darkman II soon finds out that one of his men has used his absence to take a piece of his organization's earnings for himself, and has him killed by putting him in a golf cart that drives off from a building.
- The Dark Knight Saga has a a sympathetic example. Lucius and Bruce are technically embezzling assets from Wayne Enterprises, and they are discovered and blackmailed by an auditor (technically again).
Mr. Wayne, the way I see it, all this stuff
is yours anyway.
- Wayne steals part of the Dairy Barn's earnings in Graham McNamee's Acceleration.
- The Bible notes this of Judas in John 12:6 when he is among those to complain when Mary Magdalene anoints Jesus:
"He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it."
- There's also the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, who faced unemployment because he wasted his master's funds. So he cleverly marked down a few of his master's creditors' bills (possibly making up the difference out of his own commission, so he may not have been committing new embezzlement), ingratiating himself with the potential new employers. Moral: If even crooks are wise enough to use their money to do good for people, you should too!
Every job has its little perks. Why, I don't expect that Drumknott [his clerk] here has bought a paperclip in his life, eh, Drumknott?
- However, Drumknott later feels the need to set the record straight:
I would not like it thought that I do not buy my own paperclips, sir. I enjoy owning my own paperclips. It means that they are mine.
- However, played straight in other Discworld books with Moist, who skims Post Office money, and Nobby of the Watch. It's said that if you need petty cash in the Watch you go and shake Nobby until he gives it back.
- In Big Trouble, Arthur Herk has been embezzling from his employer, Penultimate, Inc. Penultimate, being a major government contractor which has far more professional experience in Stealing from the Till, does not tolerate having its own accounts embezzled, and its Corrupt Corporate Executives are willing to hire hitmen to punish embezzling employees.
- Vorkosigan Saga
- The framing story in the difficult to find Borders of Infinity mash-up by Lois McMaster Bujold involves an alleged peculation plot by Miles Vorkosigan for several million Imperial Marks. Two of the three component stories explain the rather large cost overruns his missions incurred that form the basis of the accusation. (The third story is about why Miles would never steal from the Imperium.)
- Captain Vorpatril's Alliance begins with looking for a ring stealing military equipment.
- Denis Leary tells an anecdote in Why We Suck that involves him and a handful of friends stealing office supplies from the Atlantic Monthly offices while working there as night janitors. The group (minus Denis, who was fired earlier for unrelated reasons) eventually gets fired when they get caught trying to steal a desk.
- Many Scott Adams (featuring his Dilbert comics) books feature submissions and other brainstorming over things to do with stolen office supplies, including roof thatching with floppy disks.
- In I Can Get It For You Wholesale, Harry Bogen convinces Meyer Bushkin that Apex Modes is making so much money that it needs to hide its earnings from the government, so they can set up a scheme where Apex Modes writes checks to a personal bank account, on which checks of equal amount are drawn. Harry makes sure Meyer's name is on all the checks, so that Harry isn't the one facing jail time when the company goes bankrupt.
- In the short story "Divinity"* , when George Bailey is looking over his life after landing on the alien planet, he remembers dipping in the till as his first crime. He initially blames it on his over-protective and controlling mother; "she'd taught him to resist everything but temptation".
- Maeby steals from the till in the Banana Stand on an episode of Arrested Development, and on a larger scale, almost everyone steals from the Bluth company.
- In an episode of Desperate Housewives, one of Susan's best friends turns out to be an embezzler.
- Donna Noble helps herself to some office equipment after being fired in Doctor Who. Loudly, in an effort to draw attention to herself.
- This trope is referenced in Friends. Chandler, whilst on the phone to his boss asking him to take his job back, says that "It's a lot less satisfying stealing pens from your own home."
- Goetz does this in Jericho.
- Radar on M*A*S*H stole a jeep from his employer, the US Army, by mailing it home to Iowa one piece at a time.
- Married... with Children:
- Al Bundy was known to pocket the money customers gave him on the extremely rare occasions he sold a shoe.
- Peggy played it straight at least once.
- The final episode of The Games showed the staff jetting off with various items they had 'souvenired' from the office.
- Mr. Humphries is accused of doing this in Are You Being Served?, and asked to resign. Fortunately, Mr. Harman finds that the till is faulty, and the missing pound notes were actually jammed into the back.
- In early episodes of Better Off Ted, Linda takes petty revenge on the company by taking absurd amounts of creamer packets from the office kitchen. She stops when Ted becomes worried that she will get into trouble, but is later seen repeatedly triggering an automatic paper towel dispenser, rolling out yards of paper towel out of spite for its only dispensing a couple inches at a time.
- CSI: NY had an episode where the victim was discovered to have been taking money from the cash register of the department store where she worked and giving it to other people.
- On Suits the official story is that Danial Hardman resigned as Managing Partner and went on an indefinite leave of absence so he would have time to care for his dying wife. The real story is that he embezzled money from clients' accounts—already an extreme violation of attorney ethics (seriously, do it once, with an amount however small, and you're supposed to be disbarred)—and then, compounding the violation, tried to frame Louis for it. Some of the money went to pay for his wife's treatments but most of it was spent to fund his affair with one of the junior associates. When he tries to gain back control of the law firm, he leaks information that causes the firm to be sued, thus costing the partners millions. The kicker is that he was the one originally responsible for the serious ethical misconduct that caused the lawsuit.
- He also tricks Jessica into signing a non-disclosure agreement that prevents her from telling anyone about the embezzlement. She sort-of does it to a rival lawyer who's backing Hardman, who immediately figures out why she can't use this information and doesn't seem to care. Jessica then tries to merge her firm with a powerful British law firm. As part of the merger, she is required to show her counterpart the firm's books. The next scene is the Brit telling Hardman that he knows the truth but not from Jessica telling him, claiming to have figured it out from the books. Since the Brit is not bound by the agreement, he is free to make the information public.
- On Mad Men Lane Pryce forges Don's signature on a company check. He insists that it is just a "13-day loan" that he will repay once the Christmas bonuses are given out. Then the bonuses are postponed till January. Then the bonuses are canceled altogether and he has no way of returning the money. He kills himself shortly after being found out by Don.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, after a mind-altering event causes the Ferengi Grand Nagus to devote his vast personal fortune to charity, Rom signs on as the Nagus's top assistant...and embezzles money from the charity. Rom's generally more underhanded brother Quark expresses pride when he learns about this at the end of the episode.
- The murder plot in Betrayal kicks off when powerful Corrupt Corporate Executive Thatcher Karsten suspects that his late wife's brother is stealing from the company. Before the accusation can proven or disproven the brother-in-law is murdered.
- In the commentary for the How I Met Your Mother episode "The Final Page," Cobie Smulders and Neil Patrick Harris said that they both steal Christmas decorations from the sets of the Christmas Episodes.
- The King Missile song "Take Stuff from Work". (See page quote)
- Mentioned in the chorus of the Los Campesinos! song "Death to Los Campesinos!":
If you catch me with my hands in the till, I promise, sugar I wasn't trying to steal...
- A classic music version is Johnny Cash's song "One Piece At A Time", about a Cadillac assembly-line worker who, over the course of two decades, steals all the parts necessary to build an entire car. (It takes a little tinkering to get all the mismatched parts to fit together, and the vehicle's title weighs sixty pounds when it's finally registered.)
- Sting's song Fill Her Up is about a gas station attendant who considers stealing his boss's cash box so he can take his girlfriend to Vegas to get married. He decides not to do it because it would only "Fill her up with sadness and shame" to know she married a thief.'
- Mentioned by Kanye West in the opening lines of "Spaceship":
If my manager insults me again I will be assaulting him
After I fuck the manager up then I'm gonna shorten the register up
Let's go back, back to the Gap
Look at my check, wasn't no scratch
So if I stole, wasn't my fault
Yeah I stole, never got caught
- In Evita, the song "And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)" strongly implies that Eva and her family were taking money from her charity foundation and secreting it in a Swiss bank account.
- The protagonist of the strategy/management game Mad TV can keep spending company money on increasingly expensive gifts for his love interest. Nobody seems to notice or care.
- A significant part of the gameplay of the Tropico series, at least if the player so chooses, is embezzling as much money as possible into the player's Swiss Bank Account.
- Averted in Pharaoh. Building a mansion allows you to give yourself a salary from the city's funds every month, which is then stored away to be used at a later date (to boost your kingdom rating via expensive gifts to other nobles or to give back to the city in times of debt), even in later missions. However, the game explicitly tells you that siphoning money directly from the city's coffers to your own is embezzlement (even if you're literally making more money than you know what to do with). And That Would Be Wrong.
- Celia did it in The Order of the Stick. When her employer disappeared, she stayed at her job and helped herself to stuff he had left behind.
- When Marten gets laid off in Questionable Content, an ex-colleague suggests he steal as much in the way of office supplies as he can, to spite the bosses. Said bosses closed the entire branch to pay for their own raise. Said ex-colleague, and everyone except Marten, retaliates by taking everything in the office that's not nailed down, and probably several things that were.
- Annie gets fired from a job in Darths & Droids partly for doing this.
- Freeman's Mind is a machinima of someone playing through Half-Life while narrating Gordon's thoughts. One part in the beginning has Gordon freaking out because he thinks he's gonna be fired, so he keeps saying things like: "I better start looting the office. I bet that laser printer will get a lot of money" and "Oh good, I'm not fired. Yeah, looting from work is so much harder than not looting from work". And things like that.
- Bubs of Homestar Runner frequently admits to embezzling money or items from pretty much any fundraising event he takes part in. Nobody seems to really mind, though.
- Gordos obtained his position as one of the Twelve Heroes of Altador after he alerted the police of a greedy governor who was embezzling the heavy taxes that his citizens gave him.
- The Simpsons:
- In Marge Vs. The Monorail, Lyle Lanley is ultimately revealed to be planning to spend the money the citizens of Springfield entrusted him to build a monorail with on a vacation, thus endangering its citizens when they go on the monorail's maiden voyage.
- "Another day, another box of stolen pens."
- "Bart, it's not about how many stocks you have, it's about how much copper wire you can get out of the building with!"
- In Scooby-Doo, the Creeper ultimately turns out to be a bank owner that's been embezzling money from his bank and had been trying to take away evidence that incriminates him.
- Much of 1980s to 1990s 'zine culture was born from, raised on, and made of this trope.
Stealing Reappropriating one's employer's or schools materials were pretty much crucial to the low/no-budget publications until The Internet became more widely available in the mid to late 1990s.
- Let's be honest, you've looked at this site while at work or school, haven't you?
- Since you don't pay for internet service at school? Surely.
- If you pay tuition, then you pay for the internet at school. And if you don't pay tuition and the school is public, you pay for the internet out of your taxes (or will, eventually, you hope). That's totally fair.
- Catalyst Games Lab, producers of, among other things, Shadowrun, Cthulhutech, and Battletech, is currently (as of May 10, 2010) in deep financial trouble from flagrant embezzlement and shadiness by the CEO, although the story gets murky as to who stole the money and whether the CEO was just trying to cover for a close friend who actually embezzled the funds.
- It's been alleged that something very similar happened with West End Games. According to the story the owner used West End as a slush fund to support his other business, bankrupting the company.
- The same thing happened to Decipher, coincidentally another 1990s Star Wars licensee. Both companies' problems may or may not have contributed to Wizards of the Coast getting both sets of licenses (the RPG and the card game, respectively).
- Many current online job applications now come with questionnaires about personal and ethical preferences of the applicant (which the website will always insist have no bearing on your consideration as a hiree). Expect a question regarding your thoughts on this trope to follow shortly. the answer is always "strongly disagree".
- Now a national holiday!
- It was popular among Hackers during the BBS-era to find various ways of appropriating other people's modems and phone lines for their use (preferably an employer or a neighbor they dislike),
- There is a popular document where one very bored, and very unscrupulous man had compiled at least A Hundred Ways one can steal from their gas station employer. Trying any of it is not recommended since the document is fifteen years old and no doubt very out of date. Also, Stealing's Wrong.
- Many, many political examples occur with dictators who've looted money from the countries they run to line their own pockets. Also, thanks to The Mafia, a major reason for labor unions' current image problems.
- Embezzlement at high levels of government often leads to bribery at lower levels—the ruling thieves take so much that there isn't enough money to pay low-level civil servants a decent wage. As a result, they start to supplement their income by refusing to do anything unless you grease their palms and/or become a lot more willing to overlook or aid in illegal or immoral activities if the price is right.
- When Enron collapsed, employees walked out with a lot of presumably valuable items — laptops, Blackberries, cell phones, etc. — despite the company's claims that they belonged to the bankruptcy courts. Presumably no one cared. (In fact, being screwed over by your employer is a not-uncommon motive for employee theft — if you're just punching a timeclock and no one cares that management treats you like shit, what's a few toasters between coworkers?)
- This trope is the reason why those who work registers have to give customers receipts for any and every purchase - documenting any and all transactions makes sure that the amount of money in the drawer and the amount of money listed on the ledger at the end of the day match up. More generally, the principal-agent problem is about how to get someone acting on your behalf to do what you want to do, not what he wants to do.
- As per the documentary The Price of Sex (about forced sex trafficking out of Eastern Europe), the documentarian Mimi Chakarova talked to a charity worker from her home country of Bulgaria (she's been living in the U.S. for many years) about the constant problems of sex trafficking (and the plight of those who were trafficked who escape and return home) in said country in spite of the millions upon millions of dollars other countries give to Bulgaria to combat the problem. Said charity worker said that basically the funds that are given actually go to line the pockets of politicians and heads of police in Bulgaria and enable them to live very well in a country where the majority of people live in abject poverty. Crapsack World indeed.