A survey asked people if they thought various scenarios were acceptable, such as bumping up an insurance claim, not reporting a blunder made by a bank in their favour, and allowing a work colleague to take the blame for mistakes that were not their fault.
Men were likelier than women to find these situations acceptable, the research from professional body the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI) found.
Nearly a third (29%) of men surveyed said it was acceptable not to tell a bank if they had made an error in your favour, compared with just under one in five (19%) women.
Meanwhile, 17% of men thought it was acceptable to inflate the value of an insurance claim, versus 11% of women.
One in 10 (10%) men found it acceptable to allow a colleague to take the blame for mistakes they did not make, compared with one in 20 (5%) women.
Nearly half (47%) of men surveyed said that if they discovered confidential information belonging to a competitor, it would be acceptable to use that information for their own employer’s gain, compared with one third (33%) of women who felt this way.
The research among more than 2,000 people also suggested the “faceless” nature of technology can make people more likely to be tempted to behave unethically when buying goods.
One in six (17%) people surveyed said it was acceptable to buy an item of clothing online, wear it once and return it to the retailer for a refund.
But when asked how acceptable it would be to do this at a local retailer, only 11% found this acceptable.
Rebecca Aston, CISI integrity and ethics manager, said: “When we are actually face to face with someone on a day-to-day exchange, our connection with that person, however brief, is stronger than any digital connection.
“Face-to-face transactions remain in our subconscious and bring to the fore other emotions such as empathy, trust and possible embarrassment.”
The research also found younger people were likelier to find it acceptable to wear and return clothes they had bought online, with 32% of 18 to 29-year-olds feeling this way, compared with 11% of people aged 50 to 59.
Meanwhile, 23% of 18 to 29-year-olds would find it acceptable to return in person an item of clothing they had worn once, while just 6% of 50 to 59-year-olds thought this was acceptable.