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Money and Morality – How Much is Yours Worth?

How much are your morals worth?I wanted to tell a little story today and give you an insight into the world of e-commerce.  Now you are probably wondering what the title has to do with e-commerce, but I will bring it all together.  As some of you know, I ran my own online electronics company for about 4 years.  I learned most of it by doing and just having drive to succeed.  I stopped doing it for personal reasons, not because it wasn’t profitable, but that is a different story for a different day.

My Moral Compass

When I started my company, I did so because I wanted to provide a service to my little college town.  We could only rely on Walmart for electronics and I wasn’t OK with that.  I was also a business major and had been bitten the the entrepreneur bug.  My main goal was to provide a service, not to make money.  The thought of making money came as I moved quickly into the reins of owning a business.

You are probably aware that there are some businesses out there that don’t treat customers right, charge people outrageous prices, and do whatever they can in order to make a profit.  This was not me.  I didn’t want to be that person or business.  I made it my mission to treat customers correctly, charge the prices that were on par with the top electronics stores, and profits were not my main motivation.  I made sure my moral compass was pointed in the right direction.  After many years stepped away from the business, I still feel that I did the best I could in order to service my customers.

The Power is in my hands

Since I had an online store, I had to accept credit cards.  This is the life blood of any online business.  There are many different ways to handle the collection and security of credit cards.  I made a decision to do the best I could in order to secure my credit cards.  In all the  years of my business, I never had a security breach, but there were many attempts.  Hackers will try anything to steal credit card numbers.  I never realized how much power I had with regards to personal security.  I made it my mission to protect every customer that made a purchase on my store.  The power was in my hands and I didn’t take that lightly.

Money versus Morality

There was one day about 3 years in that I received a live chat request.  With my software, I could see exactly where a customer was located and what page they were requesting the chat from along with many other tidbits.  There was nothing out of the ordinary about this customer, so I approached it as a normal customer service chat.

I was dead wrong!

This customer started chatting with my and then asked me a question that I would never forget:

How much will you charge me for all of your credit card records?

Shocking ProposalWait…What?  Yes, you are seeing this correctly.  This “customer” was asking to buy my credit card records.  My instant reply was “They are not for sale.”  That response didn’t stop him from providing more feedback about the situation.  He then offered me at least $200,000 for full access to all of the credit card numbers, security codes, and address.  I was astonished.  I was blown away.  I didn’t even know what to say.

Well, actually, it was simple for me.  I replied with a big, fat, NO!  I told this person that what he was asking me was illegal, but of course he already knew that.  He was attempted to make his life easier by just coming out and asking me for the credit card numbers.  He then told me that if I don’t provide them, then he will just hack my site and get them.  I said, please go ahead and try.  I noticed his attempt and shut it down quicker than he could finish his key stroke.  This isn’t my first rodeo guy!

This proposition got me thinking….

As I stated, I created my business to help out customers and provide a great service.  I was not in it to make millions of dollars.  I made sure to keep my moral compass pointing in the right direction at all times.  Having said this, this proposition got me thinking that what about other people.  What about other small retailers that are struggling to survive or keep food on their table?  What would they do if someone came to them and offered them $20o,000 for some people’s credit card numbers?  Would they make the moral decision?  I just don’t know.

So, I am reaching out to you, my readers, to see what you think about this situation.  Just so you know, this was the first time I got this question, but it wasn’t the last.  I probably got asked about 10 times before I finally shut down the business.  Well, would you keep to your morals if you were propositioned in this way?  How much is your morals worth to you?  Can money affect your decision?

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About the Author Grayson Bell

I'm a business owner, blogger, father, and husband. I used credit cards too much and found myself in over $75,000 in debt ($50,000 in just credit cards). I paid it off, started this blog, and my financial life has changed. I now talk about fighting debt and growing wealth here. I run a WordPress maintenance and support company, along with another blog, Eyes on the Dollar, which is another great personal finance blog.

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68 comments
Pauline says May 13

I wouldn’t have done it either, maybe more for the potential jail sentence than worry about customers. I am all for playing the system if there is a system to be played (credit card churning, double coupon, etc.) and no one gets hurt. Playing directly another human being I couldn’t.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I was well aware of the jail sentence, but that wasn’t even a thought in my mind. I couldn’t even fathom turning over information like this to a criminal.

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DC @ Young Adult Money says May 13

Besides the fact that you could land yourself in prison for quite some time for voluntarily taking a huge cash sum for giving up that sort of information, I’d have to say that protecting that sort of data really is the bedrock of most online businesses. Imagine a $200k wire to your bank account haha…it would be flagged so quick you’d have cops at your door by the evening.

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    Grayson says May 13

    You are right on that DC. This also shows that you have to be very careful of the retailers that you shop at.

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Free Money Minute says May 13

Wow, what a story. I am glad most of us would not even think about giving up others identity in this manner. There is no way I would compromise others financial security and the confidence they had in my business. Makes me give some thought as to which merchants I am giving my credit card to.

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    Grayson says May 13

    My customers were my number one priority. Without them, I wouldn’t have been successful, so it was my goal to make sure they were fully protected when shopping on my website.

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Greg@ClubThrifty says May 13

Yikes. That is going to make me pretty leery about which merchants I would use. As for me, I would have said the exact same thing. There is no amount of money that would have made me even consider it.

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    Grayson says May 13

    That was one of the points of this post, even though I didn’t say it outright. I don’t know the price tag of other people’s morals, but mine is quite high. No money would have pushed me to turn over this sensitive data.

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John S @ Frugal Rules says May 13

Wow! That’s crazy, but not terribly surprising. There’s no way on earth I would’ve done it and for so many reasons. The illegality is just the tip of the iceberg for me and at the end of the day I could not do it simply because I know that my conscience would not allow me to. Making money is one thing and violating your morals is a complete other.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I had many reasons as well, but my main one was protecting my customers and it was against my morals. Glad to hear that you wouldn’t do it either John, but I figured you wouldn’t.

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Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says May 13

Interesting story. I have also taken a bit more of an active sys admin role since setting up my own VPS. It is really interesting to see all the people/bots try to access my server. Who knew there would be so many attempts – and I don’t even have any credit card info on my server!

I think the bigger question is – are you willing to go to jail for a couple of hundred thousand dollars. I sure as hell am not.

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    Grayson says May 13

    Yeah, for those of us that understand the backend, it can be a scary place to see how many people are actually trying to hack your site.

    I was well aware of the potential jail time and that amount of money wouldn’t have pushed me to do anything. I don’t know about someone else.

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CashRebel says May 13

Whoa, this is a whole new level if creepy. I guess I never thought people would stoop so low, but wow. I could see this working on a ton of commerce site owners. Creepy. Is this why you shut it down?

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    Grayson says May 13

    It was creepy, but after the 3rd time getting this type of proposition, it wasn’t creepy anymore, just annoying.

    No, this was not the reason for shutting it down. It was more of a personal decision regarding my family relationship. I will have a post coming up soon about it.

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Matt Becker says May 13

Just like everyone else, I’m kind of amazed at the brazenness of this person. And it’s incredibly scary to think that this is common place. To me, the biggest lesson here is that as an individual you need to do everything you can to protect yourself. For this particular type of situation, checking your credit report regularly can certainly help.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I was also amazed by this, but not after getting it from others. It became a little common place after a while. It was truly sad to see, but I am sure that it works on some. You are right about protecting yourself. You never know where your data might go after you make a purchase.

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Laurie says May 13

The low-lifedness of these criminals never ceases to amaze me, Grayson. Like you, no amount of money is worth my integrity. I’d rather be able to sleep peacefully at night, no matter how much money they offered me.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I am with you on that one Laurie. Nothing this person could have given me would have changed my mind. I wasn’t in the business to cheat my customers and screw up people’s lives.

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debtperception says May 13

Holy crap. I would have called the cops (obviously not take the proposition). It’s scary to think of how many reports we hear of businesses that have their customer’s information “hacked” into….

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    Grayson says May 13

    The cops wouldn’t have been able to do anything, but I was part of an organization that tried to deal with stuff like this. Yeah, I am not so sure all of them actually were “hacked”!

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Jenny @ Frugal Guru Guide says May 13

Not even a question. I would have just laughed at him and, if he wasn’t using a proxy server, would have turned over the chat and any IP address info I could get to the FBI.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I did laugh a little, but it is hard to do on chat. I was part of an organization that dealt with stuff like this, so I turned it all over. I am sure they didn’t do anything with it, because it is hard to track people like this. They are usually pretty good at hiding.

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Emily @ evolvingPF says May 13

Wow, that is a crazy story. I had no idea that hackers would try to be “straightforward!” I wouldn’t have taken the deal, either. As for whether someone in a worse financial position would have taken it… I bet before even receiving that kind of offer, such a person would have jacked prices or otherwise taken advantage of their customers and not had as much business as you had.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I didn’t know either, but now I do. They try the easy road first and see where it gets them. I agree with what you are saying, but have no idea if people will just see them money and then go do it.

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BrokeMillennial says May 13

My first thought, “Thank God you know how to properly protect your site!”
It’s really outrageous someone would be so blunt about trying to buy credit card information. Good for you to stand strong and not let large sums of money persuade you to do something against your moral compass.

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    Grayson says May 13

    Yeah, not everyone knows the proper way to secure their website alone their databases. It is really important to understand or at least have someone that knows.

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John @ Fearless Men says May 13

Good for you dude! Your integrity and doing the right thing are true values all men (women too) need. I can totally see what a tempting offer that would be for anyone. But I think when someone is living with integrity that temptation has no power over them.

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    Grayson says May 13

    Thanks John. I do my best when I am doing something for others. There was a good amount of cash to be had, but I wasn’t going to do it for any amount. It just isn’t right.

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Sicorra says May 13

I would have done the same as you, but it does make you wonder how many would have said yes. I mean look at all the crap that happens these days. People in high positions embezzling from charities that they work with, and so forth. I remember seeing a news report on TV back in 2006 about how credit card numbers are bought and sold online much the way stocks are . It has become a well developed business. One that many people are not even aware exists.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I am sure there are some that have said yes. You can never really know. Many people get the opportunity and they take it. We don’t know about their situations, but it all goes back to greed.

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krantcents says May 13

I never realized that someone would be that blatant to ask to buy credit card records. I fear is that someone may sell it to him!

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    Grayson says May 13

    I didn’t either until this took place. Afterwards I just shrugged it off while trying to catch them. I am sure there was someone that sold him that information.

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Jake Erickson says May 13

Wow, what an interesting story. I’m sure many people would be tempted to take the money, but I would’ve done the exact same thing that you did. It’s crazy to think that there would even be people out there trying to get away with that. Not only would taking the $200k be morally wrong, but it would also be illegal. Money only goes so far, your integrity is much more important.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I am glad you liked it Jake. I know many people are probably tempted to take this kind of cash, especially if their financial situation is dire. I had no desire to help this individual and I wanted to catch him, but I knew that most likely wouldn’t happen. I just needed to keep my customer information safe.

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Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says May 13

Wow! I must admit that I feel a bit naive. People hacking online business doesn’t surprise me, but being so bold to outright ask. And sadly knowing that by doing so, they have received some yeses in the past. I would have shut down immediately too, but it’s definitely some food for thought because not everyone has a strong moral compass or may be in a desperate situation.

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    Grayson says May 13

    I am sure they have received some yes answers in the past. They wouldn’t do it. It is the same as spam. They wouldn’t send it out unless it was profitable for them.

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anna says May 13

Wow, I’ve never heard of this – that is shocking and downright disgusting! Though now thinking about it more, not all that surprising… it’s just like the disgusting people who take advantage of senior citizens, it’s just sad. There’s not enough money in the world where this would be okay – great job and integrity, Grayson!

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    Grayson says May 13

    It was shocking to me, but now I realize that it is not a very safe environment online. This makes me use my credit card more online because of the security. Just think if they got your debit card information and cleared your bank account out? Thanks Anna!

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Chris @ Stumble Forward says May 13

It’s so sad to see that criminals have to resort to tactics like that to get peoples financial info and then to try and hack you because you wouldn’t give into their demands. You definitely did the right thing Grayson, the $200k would have been great but the Feds would have figured it out pretty quick once everyone notice their credit cards were stolen.

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    Grayson says May 13

    They will do anything for an easy way to make money. I assume that he just asked me to see if the process would have been easier for himself. He must not have been a good hacker because I was able to shut him down pretty easily.

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Justin says May 13

Wow, that’s pretty ballsy of people to ask for that type of information.
The ironic thing is you would’ve seen jail time and the hacker would’ve been onto a different site with very a lower chance of getting caught.

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    Grayson says May 13

    Yes it is. If I would have said yes, I wouldn’t be able to keep the money and my ass would be in jail. The hacker would have definitely gotten away.

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Debt Blag says May 13

Great idea for a post! Now this is a topic I love discussing, particularly because people’s minds get cloudy when it comes . For example, what if something is immoral, but not illegal (perhaps investing in a company you disagree with); illegal, but not immoral (maybe unlocking a smart phone to save money by switching companies); or in that gray area that happens so often with tax deductions.

Personally, I like to err very far on the side of caution toward neither breaking my moral code, nor the law.

It’s unbelievable that someone would be as bold as they guy who got in touch with you.

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    Grayson says May 13

    You are so right. Money clouds our judgement and we can make some stupid decisions. I try to stay on a moral line and a law-abiding line. I don’t want to deal with either of the issues.

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Maya Symone says May 13

I’m not shocked, people have gotten really crazy. I would have done the same thing you did. I don’t know how anyone sells people information. That would definitely keep me up at night, just waiting for the authorities to come get me.
Some people cannot refuse money and would say yes.

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    Grayson says May 13

    You are so true. I don’t sell anything to anyone, but it doesn’t surprise me that people do this. It is all about the money and when people see it, they just go for it.

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Brian says May 13

Wow, that is bold. I can’t believe someone would be so overt in offering that kind of money for that kind of crime? Did you take the evidence to the Police? I would definitely say no to that kind of offer…crazy.

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    Grayson says May 13

    There are always someone out there. I didn’t send the information to the police because I was already a part of a network of retailers that provide this information in order to stave off hacking.

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Greg @ Thriftgenuity.com says May 13

Great story/question. I can’t imagine that I would give up my moral compass in this case. Although, I know that I would also be very paranoid that it was some sort of sting as well, so I would be even more motivated to say no. You bring up a very interesting point, though. How much can you trust people that you give your credit card to? I’m not sure I know the answer to that.

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    Grayson says May 13

    Thanks Greg. I also think about stings like this, but after a few times, I realized that these attempts were just simple attempts to get your information without having to lift a finger. I has made me much more alert to who I give my credit card number to.

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Brock @cleverdude.com says May 13

I would have toyed with the person….see how high he would go. Then tell him where he could stick his money. 🙂

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    Grayson says May 14

    I had thought about it, but I had a lot going on when running the business by myself. I didn’t have time to mess with him.

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Cat Alford (@BudgetBlonde) says May 13

I wouldn’t have sold them either. My clients would be too important to me. Plus, it could always be an undercover cop testing you.

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    Grayson says May 14

    Of course it could have been someone undercover. I thought about that, but then it happened regularly with more tenacity.

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thepotatohead says May 13

Definitely not ok on any level. I’ve had my credit card number stolen before, and it was certainly a hassle to get all of the charges reversed and fixed. I do not wish that upon anyone. Good job for not giving into temptation! I can only imagine the frustration that would have caused your customers and the legal trouble you would have found yourself in. Also, my moral compass is telling me to point out a typo in paragraph #2, should be “My main goal…” instead of “Mu main goal”

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    Grayson says May 13

    I agree with you on that. It is not moral or ok on any level. Credit card fraud is bad in any sense. Thank you for catching my typo and I fixed it.

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    thepotatohead says May 13

    Ha speaking of typos that should be frustration not rustration lol. You can edit all that stuff out

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      Grayson says May 13

      I noticed it, but since you caught mine and were being nice, I didn’t want to point it out.

      Reply
Tie the Money Knot says May 13

Of course you did the right thing. There would be ZERO temptation to go along with that crook!

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Canadian Budget Binder says May 13

No amount of money would entice me to compromise the relationship and personal information of my customers if I owned a business. Sometimes it all boils down to necessity and greed for these people that accept but most times it comes back to bite them in the ass. It’s best to keep one’s nose clean and to do the moral and ethical thing when it comes to running a business. Just look at American Greed, that show proves it’s gotten none of the people they showcase, anywhere but locked up or dead!

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    Grayson says May 14

    I agree Mr. CBB! There is someone out there that would do it, but I am not one of them.

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Jefferson @SeeDebtRun says May 14

I would have contacted the authorities (and google) immediately.. Just because you have decent enough morals to say no, doesn’t mean that the next guy will. But kudos to you, Grayson.

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    Grayson says May 14

    The police have zero power about this and I don’t even know what Google would be able to do. They don’t have a website and Google doesn’t have power in this situation. I worked with an organization that tracked and tried to deal with these kind of things. I did report it to them. Thanks Jefferson.

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Kim@Eyesonthedollar says May 14

That is pretty bold and scary. I think there are tons of people who would turn over confidential information for that kind of money. How do you even know they would pay up, though. No amount of money is worth breaking the law and selling out the people who trusted you. I’ve been asked many times to bill an insurance a certain way to take advantage of benefits that shouldn’t pay, but will if you fudge some things. While I know people who do this regularly and pad their pockets while making customers happy, it’s not my job to make someone happy at the expense of what is right. I’d probably be lots richer if I had less scruples, but I would not have it any other way.

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    Grayson says May 14

    It is quite bold. I am sure that kind of money would have really enticed someone to spill the beans. People will try any way they can in order to pad their pockets, but I am not one of those people and glad to see that you aren’t either. I knew you weren’t Kim, but it’s good to have the confirmation!

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Brian @ Luke1428 says May 14

That’s an amazing story Grayson. It’s like you got your very own Indecent Proposal! Good for you in making the right call.

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    Grayson says May 15

    Thanks Brian. I kind of did, but I was able to decline it pretty easily.

    Reply
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