Ethics Quiz: Fake Security Alarm Signs

Ethical dilemmas come at us in all kinds of ways, large and small, with a surprising frequency. This week, we’re looking at five “everyday ethics” problems, presenting one each day. Think them over, decide what you believe is the best course of action, and then compare your views with mine, which you’ll find at the bottom of this post. Be sure to comment if you disagree. Here’s today’s problem:

The previous owner of my house left behind signs saying the home is protected by a well-known security firm when in fact it isn’t. I see no harm in leaving them up. It doesn’t hurt anybody and the only people who may be significantly deceived are the bad guys who might want to rob my house. A neighbor tells me this is unfair and unethical. His signs are legitimate and he says they’ll have no effect if everyone does what I’m doing. It seems to me that he wants the bad guys to pick on my house and leave his alone.


Here’s my view:
Your neighbor has a good point, even though he might not be expressing it well. First of all, you’re not paying for the service so you have no right to use the company’s good name. That suggests the ethical course is to take the signs down. In addition, if everyone puts up phony signs, then the crooks will catch on and start ignoring the signs, hurting everyone. Again, that makes your free ride unethical.

On the other hand, it was the company’s responsibility (not yours) to take the signs down when the contract ended. So unless somebody starts mass producing and selling fake signs, it’s hard to see that you’re doing much harm.

In other words, I’m ambivalent. You get no points for ethics if you keep the signs up but if ethics are all about consequences, I won’t take any points away either.

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4 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Fake Security Alarm Signs

  1. I left mine up. The sensors are there and, should I decide to turn on a security service, it would make sense to just use the one that’s already there. I figure that foot-in-the-door position gives me some license to keep the signs.

  2. Here’s a twist: I’ve actually been called by security system salesmen asking me to put up their sign even though I don’t buy their system. I think that would be false advertisement to my neighbors, so I don’t do it.

  3. This is tricky. But the neighbor may be wrong that the illegitimate sign is a problem for him. Perhaps a lot of signs in a neighborhood will scare off a thief and move him to the next block. That may help the nearby neighbor, but unfortunately not the folks around the block.

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