I love my hairdresser but she may be stealing from me.

I love the lady who cuts my hair. But in January, after a visit to have my hair washed and cut, I discovered some money was missing from my purse. I discovered it later that day but thought perhaps I was mistaken, and I convinced myself I had spent it.

This week I had another visit. Soon after I left, I remembered how I had missed the money and opened my purse. This time another note was missing. That is all the money I had in there. I don’t know how to deal with this. My handbag is put away out of my sight while I have my hair washed. I am certain that this is when it happens. I am so upset and disappointed. Should I find another hairdresser? Ask for another person to cut my hair? I don’t want to confront her, I have no absolute proof.

Eleanor says: Yikes! Here are your options, as I see them. Option one: keep going but take care not to leave money in your purse. This would require being able to put aside the evidence that she’s been stealing from you, though – a tough ask. And you may worry about other ways she could take advantage, like taking a peek at credit card numbers or just nosing through your belongings when you aren’t there.

Option two: escalate, either by speaking to her, or by drawing someone’s attention to the fact that you think this has been happening. This is the most socially expensive option, but it’s also the most straightforward thing to do if you want something done about it – and it would be natural to want something done about it. Nobody likes to feel they’re being taken advantage of, especially not by someone you’re friendly with. It’s theft to take from a stranger’s wallet on a train, but it gets an extra layer of betrayal when the wallet belongs to someone you’ve smiled with, chatted to, and seen on a regular basis.

You wouldn’t need to name names in order to escalate. You could make a call to the business afterwards, stressing that you don’t want to accuse anyone, but suggesting that someone could have a word with the people who work in this space – since if it’s happened to you, it might be happening to others, and not just customers.

The drawback to this strategy is we can’t be sure what the reaction would be. One question is why she feels confident enough to rummage in someone else’s bag. But a different question is why she hasn’t been prevented by the people around her. Does she not worry that if someone found out, she’d be out of a job, chastised by her colleagues? Peer sanction is one the best tools we have for making people behave well, so when they’re not behaving well, it’s reasonable to ask why they don’t fear that sanction. If you’re confident of other people’s reactions, escalating to them might be the best option – but escalation is only as useful as the subsequent reaction will be.

Option three: quietly find another hairdresser. The least satisfying in terms of feeling acknowledged, but also, for the same reasons, the easiest.

This is also the option if you think there’s a charitable explanation for what she did. Sometimes when people lie or steal it’s a mark of how desperate they must feel. I don’t think it’s obvious that’s what’s happening here – she might just assume you have spare money and want some. But if you have any reason to think that is what’s happening here – if she seems to be having a bad time in life – you might prefer to slink away without imposing consequences.

What I wouldn’t do, however, is any kind of petty revenge strategy. At an old job with a similar problem, someone suggested that we could write “busted!” on small bills in red marker, or stick a mousetrap in the petty cash box. Maybe karmically sweet moments, but they won’t leave you feeling any better, and antagonising someone who already disregards normal social rules is seldom a good idea.

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