money versus morality

Can you answer this question without a little backstory? If someone offered you $200,000 right now, what would you give them for it?  Now you are probably wondering what the title has to do with me and this site, but I will bring it all together for you.  As regular readers 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 it was slowly killing me. Literally!

Anyway, let’s get back to the $200,000 question at hand. While you read this, think about what you would give up for $200,000? You might be surprised at what I was asked to give up…

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. Making money was a result of providing a service. Offering services is something I have continued pursuing. The thought of making money came as I moved quickly into the reins of owning a business.

You are probably aware 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 and still isn’t to this day.  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 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 customers’ 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.  I had thousands of records. The power was in my hands and I didn’t take that lightly. There is a lot more to security than just a little green lock in your browser window, trust me.

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?

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

Well, actually, the answer 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 attempting 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 attempts and shut them down quicker than he could finish his key strokes.  This wasn’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 $200,000 for the credit card numbers of their customers?  Would they make the right and moral decision?  I just don’t know.

To be completely honest, the $200,000 offer made my mind wander a bit. I was deep in credit card and consumer debt to the tune of $75,000. This offer would have paid it all off and then some. Then the principles my parents instilled in me and my real brain pushed that dump thought out and told me while the money would be nice for a split second, spending years in jail for this illegal act wouldn’t be worth it. The thought of letting down my customers, my family, and myself wasn’t worth it. Luckily for me, I later paid off all my debts and now live a very comfortable life. So, nice guys can come out ahead!

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, what would you give up for $200,000? Would the amount of money bend your moral compass a bit?

What would you do for $200,000?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. What an incredible story! I’m so glad that it was an easy “no!” from you because you knew why you were in that business in the first place. Probably there are some others who might justify the crime by the “inevitability” of the hack – might as well make some money in the meantime.

    At this point in my life getting additional money isn’t important enough to me to compromise my values, though I can’t say for certain what I would do in those hypothetical “would you steal bread to feed your starving family” scenarios.

  2. Money should never change or effect your morals! Money should ABSOLUTELY NOT impact everything you stand for and what you decide is right vs. wrong should. I am happy to read that you said no and stood your ground against this immoral and illegal hacker! Kudos to you Grayson!

    1. I would agree with you, but I’m sure there are many out there who would take this $200,000 offer and run with it. Money does influence our decision making heavily. While I don’t condone it, it happens regularly. This is especially true when you see someone in a vulnerable position and they view money as the only way out.

  3. That is a tough question to answer, but when it comes to breaking ethics it is easy to say no. I thought the story was going to be about an offer to buy website. I just don’t get why some people cant just do honest work, instead of trying to hack, steal, and use others.

    1. Well for those of us with morals (such as yourself), the easy answer is no. The problem is I’ve met people who are walking that fine line and they might give it up for the chance at $200,000. The problem is they would be the ones getting caught and the hackers would move on to someone else. Money influences our decisions.

  4. Definitely an automatic no. Not only is it wrong and I could never live with myself, but I have a hard time believing that it wouldn’t come back to bite you at some point, and then you’re off to jail and your reputation and business are shot.

  5. Kudos on doing the right thing, and this story freaks me out from tech security standpont. One should NEVER store their customers’ cc info as a small online business! Major liability. Especially true nowadays, when there are so many big reputable third party payment processors available.

    1. Times are different now with CC processing, but when you run hosted the software, you had to keep some data (not all) to be able to process refunds and charge again, so you’d keep a little data in your database. I wouldn’t do it now with the advancement of payment processing.