Adjust Text Size

Dealing With Found Money

Written by Nickel - 44 Comments

What would you do if you found a wallet stuffed with cash and no identification?

Roughly ten years ago, my wife and I ran into this exact situation. We were making do on a shoestring budget, about to have a baby, and we ran across a blue nylon wallet laying in the parking lot near a side entrance into the local mall.

There was nobody in sight and when I picked it up and looked inside, I was shocked to see eleven crisp $100 bills. But that was it. No credit cards, no driver’s license… Nothing. Just the cash.

When faced with a situation like this, what would you do?

I don’t want to influence the discussion, so I’ll post my answer in a couple of days.

Edit to add: I’ve now posted my answer.

Photo Credit: ceoln

Published on September 17th, 2007
Modified on August 14th, 2008 - 44 Comments
Filed under: Miscellany

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

Related articles...

» From the Archives (September 14th – September 20th)
» Dealing With Found Money, Followup
» Found Money: What Would You Do with a Huge Sum?
» Picking Up Money Off the Ground
» Carnivals – Week of 09/23/07
» The Best of September 2007
» Ten Tips for Dealing With a Lost Wallet
» What To Do With a Lost Credit or Debit Card

Was this article useful? Please sign up to receive our content via e-mail:

You will receive only the daily updates, and can unsubscribe at anytime.

44 Responses to “Dealing With Found Money”

  1. 1
    The Financial Blogger Says:

    Well, you can not really feel guilty by keeping the money as there is no ways to identify the owner of this “miracle wallet”. I would take the money an run… unless you want to walk in the street screaming that you just found 1,1K on the floor ;-)

    I am curious to know what you did thought…

  2. 2
    Marc Says:

    In my opinion the ethical thing to do would be to post a sign as close as possible to where you found the wallet saying something like:

    “Wallet found with no identification, please call (phone number) with EXACT description of wallet and its contents to claim.”

    Without stating what the contents were should keep the false claims down. But if the owner re-traced their steps looking for the wallet, they should see the sign and know exactly what their wallet looks like and how much cash was in it.

    Then if after 30 days or so no one claims it, I’d keep it but give a percentage (or all) of it to charity.

  3. 3
    Patrick Says:

    You know, when I was in high school, I would have probably taken the money and went on my way (with only occasional feelings of guilt). Now, I really don’t think I would keep it.

    I would make an attempt to find the rightful owner, but that is easier said than done. How do you know whomever you turn it over to won’t just keep it? I guess the best thing to do is turn it over to the police. If they don’t find the rightful owner, they sometimes turn it over to the person who found it. You may luck out after all and get to keep it.

    I guess the difference is, now I would know how much the money means to people and how losing that much money can mean the difference between having a place to sleep and living on the street.

  4. 4
    ryan Says:

    i would get in my car and consider it a gift.

    i have lost money, we all have. it just flows around. maybe you find more than you lost, maybe not. consider yourself lucky.

  5. 5
    J.D. Harper Says:

    According to the Wikipedia article on Lost, mislaid, and abandoned property (which I would link except that I don’t want to get caught in a spam filter):

    Most jurisdictions have now enacted statutes requiring that the finder of lost property must turn it in to the proper authorities; if the true owner does not arrive to claim the property within a certain period of time, the property is returned to the finder as their own.

    Basically, it’s finders-keepers against everyone in the world except the true owner of the property. If the true owner claims it, you have to give it to him, but otherwise its yours.

  6. 6
    saladdin Says:

    Turn it in or make an effort to find the owner. No matter how many ways you look at it it still is not yours. The question is what lengths will you go through before being able to keep it guilt free.

    My brother found 2k in a wallet full of credit cards outside a movie complex. It did have a drivers license in it. He called the guy and took it to him. Even though the guy my brother called was a lawyer, and we all have our opinions about them, the money was not my brothers to keep. The lawyer did offer to do legal work for him for free.

    On the same theme of keeping or not keeping what is yours, I have returned to businesses before because they have made a mistake and not charged enough. Specifically, a mechanic who could not add when he made out an invoice by hand. I slept good that night.

    saladdin

  7. 7
    Martha Says:

    Similar situation – was driving down the street about 9 years ago and saw a diaper bag in the middle of the road – standard hosptial freebie issue. Pulled over, picked it up. Inside a bunch of baby things, a worn leather wallet with 2200 in assorted bills. No id but a receipt from Wal-Mart for that AM and a clinic card with the clinic’s number and the baby’s immunization record. I’d never seen so much cash in my life. I was at the end of my paycheck with way too much month left over. But all I could think was someone with a new baby has lost every cent they had in the world. Through the clinic I managed to locate the owner. And it was every cent they had in the world being immigrants who didn’t speak very much English. They offered me a reward but heck they’d already given me the best feeling I’d had in a long long time. Angel in Spanish or English is recognizeable. What an awesome feeling to be someone’s angel that day.

  8. 8
    Sarah Says:

    I’m way too honest; I’d bring it to the police station. It would kill me, but I would want someone to do that for me if I lost my wallet …

  9. 9
    Jon Says:

    I think it depends on how much money it is. If I see a $20 bill laying on the ground, I’d probably think “it’s my lucky day!” and go buy a milkshake. After all, the probability that, if I leave the money there, the person to whom it rightfully belongs would be the next person to pick it up is extraordinarily small. I might as well pocket it just as much as the next casual discovered would.

    If it’s $1,000, then of course I’d do a lot to try to find the owner. I’d turn it into the police, post signs, etc. That’s a lot of money to most anyone I can think of. Even Bill Gates wouldn’t want to just throw $1,000 out the window.

    I suppose the interesting part of this discussion is finding where the line is. I think mine is pretty low — I’d probably keep $100, but anything over that and I’d want to at least attempt to find the owner. If I couldn’t, then maybe I’d donate a significant portion of it to charity.

  10. 10
    JustBeth Says:

    Since it was outside the mall, I’d probably take it to the mall security. Most places will take your name and address, and if it’s not claimed in a certain amount of time, they’ll return it to the finder. I couldn’t keep it in good conscience unless I knew the owner had a chance to get it back.

  11. 11
    Blaine Moore Says:

    If there’s no identification, then I’d bring it to the police station and state that I found it.

    If there is, then I’d try to get a hold of the owner.

    If it was just a wad of cash laying on the ground, then I would probably pocket it.

    Most of the times I have been in a situation like this, it was just a random bill floating around which I pocketed. One time I found a $20 bill on the floor in a classroom (7th or 8th grade) which I turned in, and another time I found a wallet w/a license in it that I called the person.

  12. 12
    Mrs. Micah Says:

    I’d probably bring it to the police and ask them to return it to me if nobody who could give its exact specifications turned up in 30 days.

    Here’s another question—what if the wallet had no money but had ID….and a little baggie of white powder. And it belonged to a 16-yr-old (according to the license).

    I would’ve called her except for the baggie. So I gave it to the police. They asked if I wanted to leave my name in case of a reward. I said, “No, I don’t think so,” and left. I didn’t want to get her in trouble, but I hope she can get some help. Who knows, though, maybe they never looked through it.

  13. 13
    k Says:

    dittoing J.D. Harper–I’d turn it in to the police and fill out their found property report. If the owner claims it, it was rightfully theirs to start with, so I can’t be too upset. If the owner does not claim it, I’ll get the cash with a clear conscience.

  14. 14
    Brandon Says:

    Wad of cash without a wallet:
    I’d keep it unless someone came up to me soon after and asked me about it. I’d still be wary to give it to them thinking that it could be a scammer, but if they could give me specifics on the number of bills and types of bills, then I’d give it back.

    Wallet without ID:
    If there wasn’t much money, I’d just keep it. If there was a lot, I’d post a sign nearby and otherwise keep it.

    Wallet with ID:
    Take the money and mail them the wallet. ;)

    j/k j/k, I’d probably make every reasonable effort to get it back to them. If I could not, I would definitely take the wallet to the police, but I am not sure if I’d remove the cash first.

  15. 15
    Len Says:

    A couple of months ago some unidentified person in Japan was leaving money (lots of money) in male restrooms all over Tokyo. It made the news because almost everyone went to the police and reported the found money. They assumed it was a dying person who was trying to give away his money as charity or maybe to assuage some guilt. Anyway, the police gave back the money to the ones who found it cause the mystery person didnt surface. I’m always amazed at the dignity and honesty of Japanese people.

  16. 16
    Matt Wolfe Says:

    I agree with Marc. I think you leave a note close to where you found it. If the owner can describe it, give it back. If no one claims it after about a month, they’ve probably written it off and it’s yours.

  17. 17
    Amber Says:

    With there being so much money involved, I would say to find some way of tracking down the owner. Like a couple people mentioned, leave a basic note somewhere near the location or just keep an ear out if it’s a location you frequent often to hear if anyone’s lamenting the loss of the cash.

    In my mind, if there is no way to find the owner it’s yours. That’s how I treated the $100 bill I found in the snow on the sidewalk. However, years ago I walked up to an atm with $40 waiting to be taken and a receipt sitting there as well. I took that back to the bank since there was a way to identify the owner.

  18. 18
    Stephen Says:

    I find a lot on my early morning runs. Usually change or small bills. I would turn in a wallet with that much money to the police and possibly post a sign. I have always heard that you need to be careful with people claiming to have found something you lost. The reverse may also be true.

    I have found multiple purses and a gun on my early morning runs. I once found stolen luggage in a dumpster behind work when I took the trash out. All of the owners were found and the police got the gun. The funniest though was when my wife found a cell phone. She dialed the last number called trying to find the owner. The women that answered was pretty mad that a strange woman was using her boyfriend’s phone.

  19. 19
    Livingalmostlarge Says:

    I’d post a sign and try to return it. I have lost at least 3 wallets, usually with very little money in it and all three have been returned.

    So for sure I’d return any wallet found because of karma. I’ve had so much karma and blessings I couldn’t do it.

    But without ID, I’d post signs and hope someone can call me. Is there no other id marks?

    I probably wouldn’t return a $20 bill alone I found, unless someone came rushing up looking for it specifically. I would a wad of cash if they found it.

    At the ATM I’ve run after someone who forgot their money. Last night I ran after a lady who forgot her change in the self-checkout at the grocery store, that was $10.

  20. 20
    Mrs. Micah Says:

    Lol, Livingalmostlarge, I just realized that I got some “found money” tonight. The man ahead of me in self-check left a penny in the change dish. But he was gone and I didn’t feel like running after him. Shiny penny for me!

    If he’d been there I might have handed it to him, but otherwise it would have been awkward. *pictures* “Excuse me, sir? Sir!? You left this.”

  21. 21
    Means No Cents Says:

    Reiterating earlier comments, but I would be unable to keep any money in good conscience. I’d bring it to a local police station, hope no ownership claims would emerge, and then have no remorse for taking it over if sufficient time passed (per the law).

    Depending on the amount, I could be inclined to make a percentage donation to a local charity.

  22. 22
    Hieronymus Says:

    Yup, the whole cops & boyscout route for me. What if it had been YOUR $$$?!

    I once found a bank check for ~$35,000. I went to great lengths to find the owner, who had not yet even realized that he had dropped it (he had closed an account). While I am NOT patting myself on the back for doing what I was SUPPOSED TO DO, I was pleased (and I think he was too) that it was *I* who found the check, rather than someone…else.

    All I know is that if *I* had lost such a thing (or a wallet of $1100), I would appreciate a conscientious citizen’s efforts to return it.

  23. 23
    Xias Says:

    If there was absolutely no way to identify the owner, honestly I would keep it.

    If there was a business card or license or something I’d make every reasonable effort to get it back to them..that IS a lot of bank after all :)

    Otherwise, mine.

  24. 24
    Sam Says:

    I would alert the mall security, with a description of what was found and where, but I would turn the wallet over to local police rather than the mall’s security office.

    I would turn the wallet over to police b/c if no one claimed the wallet it would revert to the local police fund which uses such money (at least in my city) to benefit the community at large.

    I would not keep the money because (1) it doesn’t belong to me and (2) because it was in a wallet could be identified by the owner.

  25. 25
    Mike Says:

    I would NEVER, EVER, turn the wallet into the police department or mall security. Many police officers are corrupt and could easily inform a family/friend of the contents and then have that friend go claim the money.

    Instead, I would inform mall security and the local police department that I found a wallet and it’s contents. I would leave my contact information and wait half a month for somebody to claim it.

    If it were a wallet with $10 or less, I’d just keep it because it would be too much of a hassle to find the real owner, for such a low amount of money.

  26. 26
    Pat Says:

    I would post a sign like Marc said (second post from top) instead of turning the money over to the mall security. I don’t trust them not to take the money.
    I would also think about turning it in to the police. Letting them know all of my information in case it isn’t claimed.
    I have lost money myself and having it returned to me not only made me glad to get it back but also renewed my faith in the kindness of strangers.

  27. 27
    Dr. D Says:

    I once found a credit card in an ATM machine. It was attached to a German bank and there was no number to call to report it.

    I took it with me and destroyed it. I’m sure the owner had canceled the account, but why cause her more grief by leaving it behind in case someone should try to use it?

    I felt I had done “due diligence” by this person, especially since I was in an Army town at the time and felt it likely belonged to a soldier once stationed overseas.

  28. 28
    Margo Says:

    Who carries that much cash around?? I’m blown away by the amounts some folks have found!

  29. 29
    Sandy Says:

    Dood you just take it to the nearest crime lab and have the wallet finger printed to find out who it belonged to..

  30. 30
    Free Says:

    10 Years ago that was hard to do
    But now you probably could

  31. 31
    Buffanto Says:

    Once I found a wallet with %360 and a drivers license .
    I kept the money and I dropped the wallet with the drivers license into the postal delivery mailbox nearby.
    Do not tell me I am german.
    I hate uniformed people, and I know that found money is mine, but I should help my fortunemaker out with the return of his important papers anonimously.
    No uniforms and a restful good sleep.

  32. 32
    jcooper Says:

    My daughter lost a wallet at college recently and the finder did not turn it in. He did, however, post a sign in the ladies room. But it was 2 days until she found it posted there. And while she got her wallet back intact, the panic was incredible. What the finder should have done is turn it in to campus police or lost and found — the first calls she made. Or he could have looked up the family phone number using the address on the check book. In the two days it was gone she canceled her few cards, replaced her license and put a fraud alert on her credit bureau.

  33. 33
    elizaboo Says:

    my friend elizaboo just lost $100 at one of convenient local store in philadelphia at noon today.When she came back at the store, the camera shown a woman just standed behind her took this amount when that money drop off from her pocket.Unfortunately,, she borrowed that money from somebody just to be able to pay toll and gas to go to new york with littles one.She cannot…..what she can do to have that money back?????

  34. 34
    lou7don Says:

    I am the most honest person I know, and I can certainly see a lot of heap in many of the responses. What on earth are some of the respondants stating? Some or most are using different scenarios opposed to the one provided. There are laws in certain States, and in some there are none, but I really cannot say that it matters in this odd case due to the circumstances, for example, no I.D., or other indentifier were found in this wallet it was just a plain wallet with $1,100.00, thats all. The premise is and was that the Blogger deseperatly needed the money, his wife was pregnant, they seem to have been in dire circumstances and were Blessed to have come across this odd situation. Another clue to the circumstances was that it took place over a decade ago, were the State Laws the same a decade ago, humm, I dunno. All I know is that no law was broken, and whatever the Gent did with the findings was his choice and only his, feeling guilty or blessed for what he did is his dilema. In my personal opinion the blogger did nothing wrong. May his wife and child be Blessed. What he did or did not do was for his familys sake.
    Blessed be!

  35. 35
    Pat Says:

    lou7don – If you are the most honest person that you know, you must not know many honest people! It isn’t the laws that matter when it comes to honesty, it is the person’s morals.

  36. 36
    nickel Says:

    “It isn’t the laws that matter when it comes to honesty, it is the person’s morals.”

    Which is why we turned it in. That being said, I trust my moral fiber more than I trust that of a random mall employee. Hence, my trepidation about turning it in.

  37. 37
    Eileen Says:

    Once I found a wallet containing several hundred dollars in cash. I was working and on the clock – so I turned it over to my supervisor. A few months later I found out from a co-worker that the owner of the wallet had sent a reward for the person who returned it. My supervisor had kept the reward money and I was not told about the reward.
    I was honest, the supervisor was semi-honest (sort of…for returning the wallet) If this ever happens to me again – I will return the money directly to the person and not tell anyone. If there is no ID with the money…should I trust the police?????

  38. 38
    Russell Says:

    Yea like Id give it to the police. Chances are it would just get shoved into their already overfilled pockets of mystery money.

  39. 39
    Devin Says:

    id keep it finders keepers loosers weepers i once found a wallet with 50$ and all credit cards and driver liscence inside so i mailed it to the owner in return he gave me the 50$ that was so nice of him that i would do the same

  40. 40
    elizaboo Says:

    Years ago I found a full packet of cigarette at my job place. I just took it with me and destroyed without asking who is the owner. Did I do well?

  41. 41
    Al Murch Says:

    IM with the post a sign, and yes I could use $1,100.00 tax free. As for giving it to the police or notifing the state forget it. Our state is so greedy they will not pass up any chance to get thier hands on your money or anyone elses. They have to get their cut you know.
    Back to the money. The poor sole who lost it might really need it. If I were in his place the 1,100.00 would throw my life into kayoss. I feel sorry for him. You found it it might be the moral thing to at least try to see it gets to the fellow.Don’t trust someone else to fill your moral responsiabilities.
    Yesterday I found $10.00 that a fellow infront of me dropped. I caught up to him and returned it. It may have helped him have a better Christmas season. I Hope. Post your signs.

  42. 42
    Jake Says:

    Ha ha ha, turn it in to the police? Or “security” at the mall? Never in a million years.
    I’d post the sign like Marc said at #2–I found it, I’ll deal with it. I’m not blindly turning it over to some third party in hopes they’ll do the right thing, no matter what the law said.
    That’s a retarded law anyway–you can’t legislate morality.

    I wish all these morons losing money with no ID were in my neighborhood.

    Oh, does anyone remember Alan Fong? He found a suitcase in the San Francisco Airport in the mid-1990s containing $7 MILLION IN CASH–he was an immigrant working minimum wage at some food place in the airport–and he turned it in; the owner showed up instantly and claimed the money, gave him no reward. I still can’t figure out how no eyebrows were raised by $7 MILLION IN CASH and the authorities alerted before blithely handing it over, but they did.
    His reward? The Mayor declared it Alan Fong Day in SF.

    Google Alan Fong Day and you’ll find no mention at all. But it’s a true story because I still have the newspaper clipping. So much for honesty on that sad day.

  43. 43
    greg Says:

    It was $200k and the cops did question the guy. He made it on Wall Street.

    The store was TCBY and as a reward Alan was given his own store to manage in San Francisco.

  44. 44
    lou7don Says:

    Dear Pat,
    It seems that my words might have confused you. By stating that I am the most honest person I know does in no way have any inkling to morality, it just means that I say it like I see it. And as I analyzed the Bloggers question and past situation into account I stated and did so very clearly.
    34. “…whatever the Gent did with the findings was his choice and only his, feeling guilty or blessed for what he did is his dilema. In my personal opinion the blogger did nothing wrong. May his wife and child be Blessed. What he did or did not do was for his familys sake.”

    As the Merriam-Webster Dictionary New Edition, Copyright 2004: The definition of MORALIST n 3: one concerned with regulating the morals of others.
    I never had any intention in writing or debating morals. I just provided an opinion. Pat, I have no desire in debating or regulating the morals of others. I hope this is clear with your response to my answer, which was just my honest opinion. The debate of morals is not my area of concern. And for anyone else that may feel I may need to be corrected, I humbly ask you to answer the bloggers question, and not my honesty or my morality. Thank you. May all have a Happy Holidays.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Disclaimer...
Because rates and offers from advertisers shown on this website change frequently, please visit referenced sites for current information. This website may be compensated by companies mentioned through advertising, affiliate programs or otherwise.

FiveCentNickel User Survey