My native language, Hebrew, has a useful term - the “Matzliah” method. It’s documented in a hebrew wikipedia entry, but my translation can’t make it past the draft stage. I’ll add my translation here for posterity:

The “Matzliah” (Hebrew: מַצְלִיחַ) method is a common phrase in Hebrew slang, translating roughly as “Works”, which describes exploitation of other people’s lack of attention, and capitalization on their account. Its name is based on a joke, which tells of a restaurant customer, who discovers a charge for an item called “Matzliah”, which they don’t remember ordering. To the question of what dish this is, the waiter responds: “If the customer pays, it works (matzliah)”.

In its most common and most negative description, the method exists between two parties who have a business or other relationship. It is based on premeditated and hidden dishonesty, and includes an attempt of one side to perform an action that affects the other. The effect of the action depends on the second party and their ability to detect the attempt. With detection, the first party withdraws the action.

The Israeli law of consumer protection determines in section 13D1 (A) that if a customer was overcharged in an ongoing deal beyond the amount the business-owner is allowed to charge according to the details of their agreement, the business-owner will return the excess with interest and indexation, in 4 business days. Furthermore, the businessman will compensate the consumer at 16 Israeli new shekel for their expenses.

Usage of the method

This method is most prevalent in the financial field, for example: A commercial company increases its service charge without notifying the customer; this is done under the assumption that the customer, who is used to get their monthly charge, will not notice the change. If the assumption turns out to be true, it “works”; if the customer notices and appeals the charge - it “doesn’t work”, and the company will correct the charge, with barely any damage (e.g. public relations damage).

The constant rule of this method, from which it gets is name, is “if it works - it works; if it doesn’t work - it doesn’t work”; in other words, there’s a chance the attempt will succeed, and conversely, little to no damage will happen if it won’t, so there’s nothing to lose and it’s worth trying.

The Matzliah method occurs in other fields as well:

  • A business-owner that doesn’t pay their employees the full wage and benefits they deserve
  • Litigation intended to intimidate into settlement, such as vexatious litigation.
  • A business-owner deducts taxes for expenses, when they are unsure if the expenses are deductible or not. If the IRS does not review this business, it works. If a review occurs, they will remove the deduction.
  • A failing politician is called to resign, but does not hurry to do so, assuming that the public is otherwise occupied. If the public notices, the politician can always resign.
  • An insurance company dismisses a claimant’s demand for payment with various claims, such as contradicting with the terms of the policy. If the claimant does not respond nor refer to the courts, the insurance company profits (due to non-payment). If the claimant does refer to the courts, the insurance company will offer to settle for a partial sum, hoping that the claimant, due to pressure and interest in shortening legal proceedings, will agree to it. The insurance company will, at most, pay part of the policy’s sum. (See Insurance bad faith).

In The Rainmaker, a young lawyer called Rudy Baylor deals with an insurance company operating with the Mazliah method: it would initially deny every insurance claim submitted, and only pay claimants that continued to fight for their rights.

A softer version of the Mazliah version is “at least we tried”, or “can’t blame us for trying”. In this version, an attempt is made to gain an advantage, but not necessarily with fair means. For example, haggling by presenting unreasonably extreme opening positions.

See also