Presented the results of a survey showing the most unethical and dishonest professions, Carmen Seaman nodded her head in agreement. People selling cars? Of...

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Presented the results of a survey showing the most unethical and dishonest professions, Carmen Seaman nodded her head in agreement.

People selling cars? Of course. Advertising practitioners? No question. Lawyers? Makes perfect sense.

Workers from these professions often find themselves in trouble, she said, and there is one constant tying them together.

“Money,” said Seaman, a 54-year-old retired paralegal from Neptune, N.J. “It’s always money, isn’t it?”

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Car salespeople, advertising professionals and lawyers were joined by members of Congress, business executives and reporters as the professions rated lowest in honesty and ethical standards in a recent Gallup Poll.

Less than 23 percent of the public rated the ethics of those professions as “very high” or “high.”

Most workers in those professions said they weren’t surprised by the results; sometimes the simple nature of the work raises questions among the public. More often, they said, their reputations are tarnished because of a bad apple.

The Gallup Poll sheds light on the public’s perception of 21 jobs. And some professions fared well. More than 70 percent of Americans gave nurses, grade-school teachers, pharmacists and military officers high ethical marks.

While some workers tagged with a dishonest reputation may brush off the results as being stereotypical rather than reality, experts say it is important.

As a result of having a poor reputation, some business people may be charged higher transaction fees. Others may be the target of regulations from lawmakers, said Edwin Hartman, director of the Prudential Business Ethics Center at Rutgers University.

“You should be concerned about a bad reputation, even if your reputation is not deserved,” Hartman said.

When asked to defend themselves, some workers in these professions said they have been defined by long-held myths advanced by movies and television shows: the car salesman as a scoundrel; the advertising industry as full of snake-oil salespeople; the lawyer as a gunslinger.

And they’ve worked hard, if unsuccessfully, to counter them.

Take car sales, a profession that only 9 percent of Americans believes operates with high ethical standards. Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers, a trade organization representing dealers, said successful salespeople are up front and honest with their customers in hopes that they will return when it’s time to buy another car.

“The industry has not gone out and tried to advertise, ‘Car salespeople are now honest,’ ” Appleton said. “That’s not the way to get the job done. The way to get the job done is to demonstrate ethical standards day in and day out.”

Some workers in these industries said the perception of dishonesty isn’t unwarranted. Jeffrey Barnhart, owner of Creative Marketing Alliance, an advertising and marketing company in West Windsor, N.J., said some ads have so much fine print that customers are left with the impression that a company is pulling a fast one.

“My recommendation is to not use advertising that upsets consumers,” Barnhart said.

Which seemed to be Carmen Seaman’s point: The pressure to make money has caused people to go off the ethical deep end. But honestly, does she really think people are so consumed with money that they will say or do anything, even if it means lying?

“Yes,” she said.