What is a word that describes harming or reducing oneself in order to achieve financial or social gain?


  • A man purposely jumps in front of a relatively slow-moving car in order to eventually sue the driver and gain a significant amount of money.

  • A business owner is doing poorly in sales and burns down his building in order to collect the insurance money.

  • A man purposely falls off of a bridge with a low railing and sues the construction company for lack of the implementation of safeguards.

In all of the examples above, a person induces self-harm or risks their social standing in order to gain money (but social power could be something they could also attempt to achieve). Is there a singular term (preferably a legal term) that best describes this sort of behavior?


5 Answers 5


The idiomatic expression to stoop to is used to convey the idea of doing something below one's dignity for some personal advantage:

  • stoop to something
    • to do something that makes your moral standards lower. - They have stooped to using threats of violence in order to get their way.

The Free Dictionary

  • That's a good idea. I was wondering if there might be a more legal term that one could use in perhaps such a form, "The business owner committed _____". But interesting answer - I hadn't thought about it like that. Oct 17, 2016 at 20:33

In law it is called OBTAINING BY FALSE PRETENCE. If the act does not sail through or if it falls through, it is called ATTEMPT TO OBTAIN WITH FRAUDULENT INTENT OR ATTEMPT TO OBTAIN BY FALSE PRETENCE. Depending on the facts, it could give rise to a civil or criminal litigation process

  • Shouting?. I don't get it.
    – user200193
    Oct 18, 2016 at 6:33

All the acts you've described are frauds. I don't think there is a specific word in English for self-injury with intent to defraud. In fact, I've probably just given a reasonable legal definition!

The previous suggestions revolve around moral debasement. It's unclear whether this is your main consideration - if so, self-injurious would cover both the moral and physical aspects of the act (but not the financial, unless your man was caught out.)


I don't think there is any single word that covers every aspect of your question ("self-detriment for personal gain").

The acts described in your examples illustrate dishonest behaviour intended to deliver personal gain. These would generally be considered to be fraud:

  1. deceit, trickery, sharp practice, or breach of confidence, perpetrated for profit or to gain some unfair or dishonest advantage.

  2. a particular instance of such deceit or trickery: mail fraud; election frauds.

  3. any deception, trickery, or humbug:

A more specific definition that might be relevant is insurance fraud:

Insurance fraud is any act committed with the intent to obtain a fraudulent outcome from an insurance process. This may occur when a claimant attempts to obtain some benefit or advantage to which they are not otherwise entitled...

For more examples, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Fraud

Your question also covers social gain. Fraud would also cover this. For example, a person who pretends to know famous people he doesn't know, or to have a job he hasn't got, would be a fraud without necessarily doing anything illegal.

Finally, the effect on the person committing the acts -- there is 'stoop to', as already mentioned, but also demeaning:

Causing someone to lose their dignity and the respect of others.

From which it could be said that doing it to oneself is self-demeaning (Ngram).

However, it might not be self-demeaning if the person committing the fraud managed to avoid getting caught :-)


Based on the examples you gave (and echoing the other answers and comments), the word "fraud" (specifically "insurance fraud") fits very well.

However, at a more abstract level, someone who is self-detriment for personal gain can be described as acting in bad faith, which basically means there is a double-mindedness/duplicity/deception in his actions.

On a side note, someone who manipulates others by victimizing themselves is victim playing. This kind of self-victimization seems more psychological than physical, so it might not be what you're looking for.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.