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Penny Shaving

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You want to steal a lot of money, but you don't want to get caught. So instead of stealing it all at once, you steal tiny amounts of money from lots of people in a way that makes it very unlikely any one of them will notice.

Also known as Salami Slicing (because salami is traditionally sliced so thinly, people are unlikely to notice the difference between a chunk of salami and the same chunk with a single slice removed, but if you steal one slice each from dozens of salami, you will eventually get a full sausage's worth of meat without the risk of being noticed like if you had simply stolen a salami). Compare Piecemeal Funds Transfer.

Historically, when coins made of a valuable metal were the main form of currency, this was done in a literal sense by cutting a thin shaving off the edge of the coin. In the 2000s, with electronic banking, the "shaving" is done digitally.


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  • One tech ad had a man going around his office proudly stating "Saving a nickel!" to everyone he can find, showing off an actual nickel as well. At the end he hands the nickel to an executive who just happens to be walking down the hall, and explains it more fully: by switching to a certain database product, they save a nickel on every transaction they do, before walking away satisfied. The exec notes to himself that the company makes over twenty million of those transactions a month, meaning that saving a nickel each means millions of dollars saved over the course of a year. The exec then goes off with the nickel saying "Saving a nickel!" just as proudly.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex 2nd Gig, Kuze gets the funding for his immigrant uprising by stealing sub-yen amounts from a large number of bank accounts.
  • In JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable, Shigekiyo Yangu uses his Stand Harvest (which consists of several insect-like creatures) to collect loose change people have dropped on the ground, easily collecting large sums of money from small amounts most people didn't even notice. Josuke eventually convinces him to up his game by searching the trash for discarded lottery tickets, figuring they'll eventually find a winning ticket that someone carelessly threw away (and they do).
  • Mega Man Megamix: This is how Auto financed the construction of Big Eddie. He saved some of the spare change whenever he got sent on shopping ventures for years. While it was for the noble cause of creating an emergency back-up lab, Roll gets ticked off at him because of the headache the loss of money caused her with the bookkeeping.

    Comic Books 
  • In one "Flamebird and Nightwing" story in Superman comics, a Kandorian criminal does this; writing a computer program to steal a tiny fraction of one percent from every transaction conducted in the bottle city of Kandor. As all financial transactions in Kandor are done via computer, this rapidly becomes a huge amount of money.

    Fan Fiction 
  • In the Lyrical Nanoha fanfic Infinity, it's explained that Gil Graham got the funds for building Durandal by overestimating the price of every project he was in charge of by .5% and only returning half of the excess.
  • In the crossover between The Science of Discworld and The Big Bang Theory, The Many Worlds Interpretation, by A.A. Pessimal, this is how the hyper-intelligent thinking engine HEX finances the stay in California by two Discworld academics. HEX reasons that the money has effectively been written off by the American banking system, he is not unbalancing the accounts, and he is in fact boosting the economy of the USA by enabling the otherwise lost cash to circulate. HEX therefore comes to an agreement with the computer systems at American banks to release those lost fractions of cents - garnered from millions of accounts.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • After his boss mentions that the computer is tracking amounts of money too small to be displayed, Gus begins his criminal career in Superman III by instructing a computer he works with to put any amount of money less than a cent into his bank account. He's ultimately caught after buying a sports car with his ill-gotten gains.
  • The protagonists of Office Space put a virus that steals pennies from the company they work from as revenge for two of them being fired, explicitly referencing Superman III, and even noting how Gus got caught. They do it anyway, and end up inadvertently taking a lot more than they expected due to a bug in the software. They never get caught because Milton burned down the office, destroying the evidence in the process.
  • In Hackers, the MacGuffin is a virus that steals a few cents from every transaction that the Ellingson Mineral Company conducts. A better case than most; no one notices anything because the money isn't really gone — it's still in the company's accounts, just shifted around so it isn't getting spent. The bad guy's plan is to embezzle enough money to retire on, then cause a big mess which will cover for his program actually transferring the cash to an offshore account.
  • In How to Rob a Bank, Nick's ultimate goal is to gain access funds which have been skimmed by the bank from fees over the course of years in the form of nickels and dimes that no one ever checks on their statements.

  • Discworld: Discussed in Making Money, where Moist von Lipwig mentions a technique where people will put a lot of coins made from precious metal in their pockets and shake it as often as possible, eventually producing a modest amount of metallic dust.
  • The Tamuli. Baroness Melidere's wealth came from her father inventing a set of remilling dies, which cut the edges off gold coins and remilled them to have the ridged edges that are supposed to indicate untampered coinage. The resulting bits of gold would be tiny, but if a large number of coins were treated, it would add up to a reasonable value. Rather than try to get his hands on that many coins, her father rented the dies to people who were in a position to handle that much money, and made a fortune on the rentals. In explaining this to fellow thief Stragen, Melidere smugly muses that there are probably no full-weight gold coins left on the continent.
  • This is exploited by The Stainless Steel Rat in Harry Harrison's novels. The galactic conman explains this has been around for as long as banks, and explains that con-men call it "the salami" - on the basis that lots of very, very, thin slices, over time, add up to a whole sausage.
  • In The Incredible Dr Matrix one of Matrix's schemes involves cutting and reforming twenty dollar bills, using slightly less than a full bill for each remade one, making 20 twenty dollar bills out of 19 bills.
  • In The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, in order to fund the building of a second catapult, Manny uses several means, such as making Party members open accounts, where Mike would credit more than real and debit less than in reality for several months before closing the account and giving the proceeds to the cell leader.
  • The Baroque Cycle frequently acknowledges the literal version whenever money transactions take place. Buyers will always inspect the coins given to them and only accept partial value on those with evidence of shaving or clipping. This theme ties into the plot importance of Sir Isaac Newton, who was instrumental in cracking down on coin tampering.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One episode of Cagney & Lacey has the two detectives discover that a witness in another case has been issuing store refunds to customers in whole dollar amounts. The remainder is siphoned into a house account in the employee's name. The store manager is furious, and demands prosecution; the victims, however, can't be bothered to file charges for being defrauded for bus change.
  • Probe's "Computer Logic, Part 2": After Crossover was placed in charge of the city's utility companies, it began a penny shaving scheme where it added on a few extra cents on everyone's bill, so that it could spend the money on donations. By the time its creator asks about the theft, it had already earned/donated a million dollars that way.
  • The Malaysian crime drama One-Cent Thief revolves around a young bank teller who embezzles from the bank's customers by shaving one cent from each account in order to pay off his ailing father's medical bills. He then disguises the theft by marking these deductions as "service charges."

  • The protagonist of the Johnny Cash song One Piece at a Time, a worker at a Cadillac plant, steals an entire Cadillac over twenty years. He ends up with The Alleged Car because Cadillac changed drastically between 1949 and 1974.

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer: Generals: The Chinese hacker unit works this way, stealing $5 at a time from the Internet at large (then 6, 8 and 10 as he gains ranks).
  • In Ricardo Diaz's first mission in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, he sends Tommy to kill one of his street level dealers for skimming a bit off the top of Diaz's profits. In Diaz's words: "Stealing three percent is as good as stealing one hundred percent!"
  • In Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, the Embezzler profession is someone who had a "genius plan" to skim fractions of cents from their company's account. It failed and they got immediately arrested for it, hence why the profession is only available in Prison and Island Prison starts.

    Visual Novels 

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted in The Amazing World of Gumball. When Richard accidentally robs $2 million from a bank, the rest of the Wattersons try to figure how to return it without getting caught. Anais' idea is to work for the bank and transfer back $1 every day until it's all in there. Gumball points out that she'd have to do this for 2 million days (which is about 5500 years).
  • Mr. Krabs does with with Gary in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode, "The Cent of Money", when he finds out that Gary can attract coins due to a Mermaid Man and Barnacle Boy fridge magnet he swallowed.
  • David Xanatos tries this in an episode of Gargoyles, using a broadcast to steal a few minutes of life from everybody who watches it - nobody will notice that Grandma died a few minutes sooner than expected, but all those minutes times the 20 million or so viewers in the NYC metropolitan area really adds up!

    Real Life 
  • Done literally in the old days when coins were made of actual valuable metals.. People would put the coins in a sack and rattle them, knocking off bits of the metal. This is why some trades use weights of coins rather than trusting their face value. A less subtle method was "clipping", or cutting small amounts of metal off the edge of the coin, but this could get you hanged if anybody noticed. Many modern coins still include "milling" (a pattern around the edge which makes it obvious if any metal's been removed)note  as part of their design even though they're made from less valuable metals and alloys, partly because it looks nice and partly because it actually helps people grip the coins better, making them less annoying to use as money.
  • On a more benign level, with the increasing rise of electronic transactions, some stores are allowing you to round your purchases up to the nearest dollar with the excess being donated to charity. This replaces collections boxes that customers would previously donate their loose change into anyway.
    • Of course, this money is now being donated by the company instead of you. All that cumulative change becomes a huge tax write-off.
  • Modern systems are designed to account for the Superman III-style thefts of percents of a cent. If everything starts coming back rounded perfectly, an alarm somewhere will go off and computer security will start looking for you.
  • A case of this action not being used for crime, just corporate profits: In 1987, the CEO of American Airlines proposed to remove one single olive from each portion of salad served in the airline's inflight meal service. Net profit as a result of this decision: $40,000. Complaints: None.
  • Shrinkflation (so named because it usually happens in response to high inflation) is when companies covertly reduce the size or quantity of items they sell in a particular package while keeping the price for the consumer the same. For example, Procter & Gamble's 18-count toilet paper bundle went from 264 sheets per roll to 244 per roll in 2022 after more than a year of highest-in-decades inflation.