above board

If a situation or business is described as above board, it is open, honest and legal.
“There are not secret negotiations. Our dealings have always been above board.”

barefaced liar

Someone who lies easily, with a total lack of shame, is a barefaced liar.
“That barefaced liar stole my watch and said he’d found it!”

bend the truth

If you bend the truth, you say something that is not entirely true.
“Ok, I bent the truth a bit. I told him it was my natural colour, but I didn’t say that my hairdresser helped me to keep it natural!”

(the) benefit of the doubt

If you give someone the benefit of the doubt, you choose to believe that the person is innocent, honest or telling the truth, because there is no evidence to the contrary.
“Although he found it hard to believe Tom’s explanation, the teacher decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

black market

The black market refers to the illegal buying and selling of goods or currencies.
“Be careful of what you buy on the black market – it’s not always good quality.”

break every rule in the book

If you behave in a completely unacceptable way, you break every rule in the book.
“Our competitors obtained the contract by breaking every rule in the book.”

buy a lemon

If buy something, especially a car, that is defective, unsatisfactory, constantly gives trouble or stops running after a short time, you buy a lemon.
“The car I bought was a real lemon. It broke down two weeks later.”

in cahoots with someone

If one person is in cahoots with another, they are working in close partnership, usually conspiring to do something dishonest.
“There was a rumour that the Mayor was in cahoots with a chain of supermarkets.”

put/lay one’s cards on the table

If you put (or lay) your cards on the table, you speak honestly and openly about your feelings and intentions.
“Let’s be honest with each other and put our cards on the table.”

catch red-handed

If a person is caught red-handed, they are caught while they are doing something wrong or illegal.
“The police arrived as the burglar was leaving the house. He was caught red-handed.”

cook the books

A person who cooks the books is one who changes the facts or figures in the financial accounts, often in order to steal money.
“The actor discovered after a while that his agent was cooking the books.”

(as) crooked as a dog’s hind leg

To say that someone is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg means that they are very dishonest indeed.
“He can’t be trusted – he’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”

daylight robbery

The term daylight robbery is used when the price of something is thought to be much too high.
“$10 for an orange juice? That’s daylight robbery!”

economical with the truth

To say that a person is economical with the truth means that, without actually lying, they omit important facts or give incomplete information.
“The politician was accused of being economical with the truth.”

(at) face value

If you take something at its face value, you assume that it is genuinely what it appears to be.
“The car seems to be in good condition, but don’t take it at its face value; get a mechanic to check it out.”

fair and square

If something is obtained or won fair and square, it is done in an honest and open manner, the rules are respected and there is no cheating or lying.
“Gavin won the competition fair and square – there was no doubt about the result.”

fall off the back of a lorry

Goods that have fallen off the back of a lorry are stolen goods.
“Judging by the price of that camera, it must have fallen off the back of a lorry!”

false pretences

If you obtain something under false pretences, you deceive others by lying about your identity, qualifications, financial or social position, in order to get what you want.
“The journalist obtained the interview under false pretences.”

five finger discount

If somebody gets a five-finger discount, they take something without paying. In other words, they steal.
“How could he afford that watch? Who knows – perhaps with a five-finger discount!”


A fly-by-night person, business or venture is considered untrustworthy because they operate briefly and disappear overnight.
“I bought it in one of those fly-by-night stores and now I can’t exchange it. The place has closed down.”

funny business

A business which is conducted in a deceitful, dishonest or unethical manner is called funny business.
“I’ve got suspicions about that association. I think they’re up to some funny business.”

grease someone’s palm

If you accuse someone of greasing somebody’s palm, you are accusing them of giving money to someone in order to gain an unfair advantage or to obtain something they want.
“In some countries, it is common practice to grease government officials’ palms.”

hand in glove

Two or more people who are in collusion, or work in close association, are said to be hand in glove.
“After the match, it was discovered that he was hand in glove with the referee.”

ill-gotten gains

Money, profit or benefits that are made in a dishonest or illegal manner are called ill-gotten gains.
“He won money by cheating and is now enjoying his ill-gotten gains.”

lead up the garden path

If someone leads you up the garden path, they deceive you by making you believe something which is not true.
“I still haven’t got the promotion I was promised. I think my boss is leading me up the garden path!”

lie one’s way in/out of

If you obtain something or get out of a situation by telling lies, you lie your way in or out of it.
“He lied his way into a well-paid position.”

lie through one’s teeth

If you lie through your teeth, you lie openly and brazenly, knowing that what you are saying is completely false.
“I saw him breaking the window. If he denies it, he’s lying through his teeth.”

live a lie

If you spend your life hiding something important about yourself, or inventing something which is not true, you live a lie.
“To hide his humble origins, he told his wife he had no family and spent his life living a lie.”

money laundering

When people launder money, they manage to conceal the source of illegally-obtained money so that it is believed to be legitimate.
“Certain countries have been accused of facilitating money laundering.”

monkey business

An activity which is organised in a deceitful or dishonest way is called monkey business.
“The results announced seem suspicious – I think there’s some monkey business going on.”

oldest trick in the book

A well-known and much-used trick, which is still effective today, is called the oldest trick in the book.
“He made a noise to attract my attention while his accomplice stole my wallet – the oldest trick in the book!”

on the level

If you say that someone is on the level, you are referring to an honest and truthful person.
“Tell me straight – is he on the level or not?”

(a) a pack of lies

A large number of untruthful statements is referred to as a pack of lies.
“The story about her unhappy childhood turned out to be a pack of lies.”

play the game

If you play the game, you accept to do things according to generally-accepted customs or code of behaviour.
“Not all website owners play the game. Some download content from other sites without permission.”

play games with someone

If you are not completely honest, or behave in a way that is insincere, evasive or intentionally misleading, you are playing games with someone.
“Look, stop playing games with us. Just tell us if you’re interested in the project or not.”

play by the rules

If you play by the rules, you behave in a fair and honest way with people.
“You can trust him, don’t worry. He always plays by the rules.”

pull a fast one on somebody

To pull a fast one means to gain an advantage over someone by deceiving them.
“The street vendor pulled a fast one on Tom. He sold him a big bunch of roses but wrapped a smaller bunch while Tom was taking out his wallet.”

(a) rip-off

To say that something is a rip-off means that it costs much more than it should.
“$15 for an orange juice? That’s a rip-off!”

(the) scales fall from your eyes

When the scales fall from your eyes, you finally understand the truth about something.
“It was only when he was arrested for theft that the scales fell from my eyes and I realised where his money came from.”

sharp practice

Trying to achieve something by using underhand, deceitful or dishonourable means, that are barely within the law, is called sharp practice.
“That company is under investigation for sharp practice so it’s better to avoid dealing with them.”

short end of the stick

If you get the short end of the stick, you are treated unfairly or receive less than what is due or is deserved.
“They reached an agreement but Sophie felt she got the short end of the stick.”

shoulder surfing

The practice of looking over somebody’s shoulder when they are using a computer, cash dispenser or other electronic device, in order to obtain personal information (identification, account number, password, etc.) is called shoulder surfing.

siphon off

If someone siphons something off, they transfer something from one place to another, often illegally.
“It was discovered that he had siphoned off money from the business into an account in a tax haven.”

smoke and mirrors

An attempt to conceal or distort the truth (like a magician) in order to confuse people is called smoke and mirrors.
“The outgoing president used smoke and mirrors to make the situation look better.”

(a) smokescreen

A smokescreen is an action or tactic intended to conceal or divert attention from your real intentions or activities.
“His travel business was just a smokescreen for his political activities.”

(a) smoking gun

A smoking gun is a piece of evidence or the indisputable sign of someone’s guilt.
“The fingerprints left on the door-handle was the smoking gun that enabled the police to arrest him.”

sow the seeds of suspicion

If someone’s behaviour, or something they say, sows the seeds of suspicion, it leads people to suspect that they are guilty.
“The fact that the boy spent a lot of money after the burglary sowed the seeds of suspicion in the neigbours’ minds.”

spin a yarn

If you spin a yarn, you tell a story, usually a long improbable one, with distorted truths.
“He failed the exam and spun a yarn about the exam papers being stolen.”

(have) sticky fingers

Someone who hassticky fingers has a tendency to steal.
“Items have been disappearing from the stock recently. Do any of the employees have sticky fingers?”

(as) straight as an arrow

Someone who is as straight as an arrow is a morally upright person who is extremely honest.
“You can leave the keys with Andy. He’s as straight as an arrow.”

stretch the truth

When you stretch the truth, you exaggerate the facts or say things that are not exactly true.
“Some candidates are tempted to stretch the truth about their skills or work experience.”

take someone for a ride

To take someone for a ride means to cheat or deceive them.
“I discovered he had charged me double the normal fee. He really took me for a ride!”

(be) taken to the cleaners

If someone is taken to the cleaners, they lose a lot of money in an unfair way, usually by being robbed or cheated.
“When the company Tom had invested in went bankrupt, he realized he had been taken to the cleaners.”

(a) tall story

A tall story is a story which is difficult to believe because it sounds unlikely.
“What he said about a stolen invention sounds like a tall story to me.”

throw dust in someone’s eyes

If you throw dust in someone’s eyes, you prevent them from seeing the truth by misleading them.
“He threw dust in the old lady’s eyes by pretending to be a police officer, then stole her jewellery.”