Criminology: Credit Card Theft

979 words | 4 page(s)

The temptation was too great. I had been given access to my mother’s credit card. Through a lifetime of good credit activity and a strong financial profile, she had built up a seemingly endless credit limit. Her credit card seemed like magic, and no matter how many times she swiped it, it never ran out of available space. She had given me the opportunity to use the credit card. She had hoped to help me build up my credit while also showing me how to be responsible with money. Over time, she gave me the freedom to do what I wanted with the card. She trusted that I would use the card in a responsible way, doing what children sometimes do. I would spend money on emergencies, of course, always having a card with me that I could use in order to get myself out of quick jams. I might also use it for the occasionally non-emergency, and that would be alright as long as I let her know and also acted like a responsible person.

Over time, I pushed the limits more and more. I noticed that my mother was not keeping a close eye on her credit card account. After all, she had no reason real reason to have her eye on things. She trusted me, a decision that would come back to haunt her. She also knew her own spending limits. She suspected that if something ever went wrong, like a person getting their hands on her credit card without permission, the card provider would call her and check to see if the transaction had been legitimate. What she never expected was for me to do what I did when I got my hands on her credit limit.

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I started spending and had a difficult time stopping. First came the fancy, expensive restaurants. I developed a real taste for fine food and the fine dining experience. I would take friends out and often go on dates, picking up tabs whenever I could to help myself stand out from the crowd. I bought whatever I wanted from the menu. I would try foods that I had never had a chance to eat, often choosing the most expensive thing on the menu just because I knew I could do it without facing any real consequences on my own. It was not just the restaurants that helped me build a balance. I also went on shopping sprees. While I liked to shop online, I also liked going to high end stores to purchase whatever I wanted. I never thought I was spending that much, but I knew things had to be piling up. I kept a small register in my mind, but after a while, I stopped adding it up. Was it $10,000? Had I spent $25,000? With every fancy shoe purchase and trip to another five-star restaurant, the balance grew. Before I knew it, I was getting a call from my mother. She had finally checked her balance after getting a notification. In all, I had spent around $80,000 in the course of just two months.

She was livid. At first, she could not believe what I had done. I braced for impact. I did not know what to expect. Could she call the cops on me? Would she take me out of school? Would I suffer some kind of punishment I never conceived of? How would this impact her? All of these things ran through my mind. Then she let me know what my consequence would be. I would be restricted from using her credit card for a month.

It was a shockingly lenient punishment. I was like sending a murderer to prison for one year or putting a person on probation for kidnapping. What I had done, in reality, was theft. I stole from my mother, knowing what I was doing the entire time. In terms of justice, I looked at myself as being more important than my mother. My priority was my own comfort and my own lifestyle, no matter what it did to her. In Hammurabi’s time, I might have been required to pay all the money back, even if that meant working for 10 years without ceasing. In a situation where I stole from anyone other than my mother, I would have been charged with a felony. In this situation, I got off with practically no punishment. Her punishment was nonsensical from a number of perspectives. It was not proper retribution. She was neither made whole financially nor in a moral sense, as my punishment did not fit the crime I committed. Beyond that, there was no deterrent effect. Her decision basically let me know that I could get away with almost anything. It set me up in a situation where I knew I could probably do it all again and not suffer much worse. I have to analyze her behavior through two lenses. For one, she is my parent, and because of that, she is programmed to love me and forgive me in a way that no one else in the world else. Beyond that, she might have thought it was her fault in some ways. Giving me access to that credit limit, she might have thought she set me up for that sort of failure. Whatever her decision process was, it ended up with a woefully inadequate punishment that is inconceivable given the thing I did.

When I stole $80,000 from my mother by using her credit card, I probably should have suffered a real consequence. The money was big enough that the crime moved from petty theft to something more resembling embezzlement in a flash. I was not punished in this way, though. My mother let me off easier than anyone could have imagined, bringing to mind the question of what I would even have to do to get really punished by her.

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