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Dealing With Found Money, Followup

Written by Nickel - 30 Comments

The other day, I asked readers how they’d handle finding a large sum of money in a wallet with no ID. For background, my wife and I ran into this exact situation about ten years ago… We were living on a shoestring and about to have a baby (in fact, we were past my wife’s due date and out walking to get things moving) when we ran across a wallet containing eleven $100 bills and nothing else — no identification, no credit cards, nothing.

Given our situation, I must admit that it was tempting to pocket the money, but… $1100 is a lot of money, and just walking off with it would not only be wrong, but it could also be devastating to the person that lost it.

My wife’s first reaction was:

“The mall security office is just inside the door, we have to turn it in.”

I was less sure. After all, there’s no guarantee that mall security (or the police, for that matter) would do the right thing and hold it for the owner. I wanted to tell them that we found a wallet with a large sum of money in it, give them our contact info, and then hold onto it ourselves in hopes that someone would come along and claim it with a detailed description.

In the end, my wife won out, in large part because we were so close to the security office that we didn’t have time to think things through. The security office wrote up a report, complete with our contact info, put it in an envelope, and stashed it in their safe. They also promised that we could have the money if it went unclaimed for 30 days.

As we were walking away from the mall security office, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach… We had just handed $1100 over to strangers in hopes that they’d do the right thing. Thankfully, just as we left the office and were heading down the corridor, we saw a panic-stricken man rushing in the opposite direction. He hustled into the security office, and we lingered at a distance. A few minutes later, we saw a totally relieved man emerge from the security office. Apparently he had lost the wallet on his way into the mall just a few minutes ahead of us.

So… We did the right thing, but probably not in the smartest way possible. Nonetheless, it worked out for the best. Would I do it again? Yes, but I’d be smarter about it, and not relinquish control of the money in hopes that someone else would do the right thing. As of this writing, the majority of responses to my original post agree that trying to return the money is the right thing to do.

The most annoying thing about all of this was that we never even got so much as a thank you from the rightful owner. It would’ve been nice to at least receive a few words of appreciation for not simply walking off with over a grand in cash, or leaving it lying there in the parking lot.

Published on September 19th, 2007
Modified on December 20th, 2007 - 30 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!

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30 Responses to “Dealing With Found Money, Followup”

  1. 1
    Deandrea Says:

    I wonder if the person even got your contact info.

  2. 2
    Blaine Moore Says:

    My guess is that they just handed it to him and he never got your info anyway.

    I’m glad that he managed to get his cash; I bet he spent it on a tv or something.

  3. 3
    Mia Says:

    I missed your first post on this but I’m glad to learn you did the right thing, with your wife’s encouragement.

    I’m not sure that it would be ‘wrong’ to hand over the money to mall security or the police; imho you need only to do the right thing (which is turn in the money) not try to determine if others will be as honest as yourself; in general you or I aren’t any more trustworthy than the next person.

    I myself have lost my purse at least a dozen times in the last 20 years – everywhere from a movie theater bathroom to a grocery cart to flying off the top of my car on the interstate. ALL of them were returned with everything intact; including once when the purse contained nearly $2,000 in cash and another time when nearly 6 years later my wallet was mailed back to me.

    There are a lot of good, honest people in the world!

  4. 4
    nickel Says:

    I just want to clarify that I didn’t need my wife’s encouragement to do the right thing. We both ultimately wanted to see the money get back to the rightful owner. We just differed in our approach. I simply didn’t like the idea of handing it over to a perfect stranger and then hoping that they’d do the right thing instead of snagging it for themselves.

  5. 5
    Anil Dalal Says:

    I think like you do. I “know” of my intentions.
    I don’t know the security person’s intention.
    I would give my name and phone to security and will just tell him that I found a wallet with money. I will not tell how much money. The right owner ought to know it (atleast approximately).
    Recently I found a Neno I-pod in a parking lot.
    (shopping center)Can anyone tell me how to go about identifying the rightful owner ?

  6. 6
    nickel Says:

    Anil: You cold report that you found it to store security and give them your contact info. If anyone responds, you can then ask them about what music they had on it. They should have a pretty good idea of the sorts of things that are on there.

  7. 7
    Xias Says:

    Karma’s a funny thing, so well done on doing what you knew was right!

  8. 8
    Kyle Says:

    Great story. It is nice to hear somebody doing the right thing in that situation. Also, a great learning experience for your son. Kuddos to you and your wife!

  9. 9
    Hieronymus Says:

    Uprightness (or equivalent) is, really, its own reward. I hear you: it would be NICE to get a thank you, but it should not be the reason for doing something–it should merely be icing on the cake.

    You did the right thing; we all should do the right thing.

  10. 10
    rstlne Says:

    There was one time when a bank teller made a counting error and gave me $500 extra by mistake. When I caught the mistake, I went back to return the money. It doesn’t matter whether you get a reward or not. It is the right thing to do and your personal integrity is worth more than a mere sum of money.

  11. 11
    Jack Says:

    I once found a wallet with 85 bucks and a gold card in it; when the owner picked it up, she didn’t check if the money was still in it, which I thought was classy. She later sent me a $50 check, which I cashed–virtue is its own reward, but I was a student at the time. Another time I returned an extra $20 extra from an ATM–the manager was very confused. BTW, I am a lawyer now! Almost all of us are very honest.

  12. 12
    thomas Says:

    i remember in high school my mom found a wallet with $400 bucks in it. No identification, just the money and a western union receipt… in spanish. Thankfully my then 4 months of Spanish II was helpful as I called the number of the sender and told them in spanish no better than “walleto foundo mucho dinero.” The man showed up later that day and when my Mom gave the wallet back, he handed her $100. She tried to refuse, but the man insisted. Pretty nice of the guy, although when you think about it, being out $100 is better than $400.

  13. 13
    Pax Says:

    I’m sorrry, but as in the game Monopoly (bank error in your favor – collect $200), if a teller, ATM, or computer messes up at a bank, I’m gonna keep that money – banks are ruthless with their fees of all sorts (most recently invented so they can “find” money in my wallet) and interest rates, and I would just consider it a refund of my own money anyhow.

    An individual’s money, that’s another story…

  14. 14
    Paul Says:

    Pax,
    your attitude reminds me of a story where a man went to complain to the payroll department at his company. He angrily told them “Hey, you shorted my paycheck $100 this week! It’s ridiculous that you should make such careless errors! How could you let such a thing happen!”

    The payroll clerk checked his records and calmly responded, “Yes, your check was short this week by $100, but only because we overpaid you $100 the previous week. How come you didn’t come to complain about the error we made last week?”

    The man sheepishly replied “Well, I can overlook one error, but not two…..”

  15. 15
    Jennifer Says:

    Are you kidding me? Keeping the money would have been stealing, so the rightful owner of the money is supposed to THANK you for NOT stealing from them? Give me a break.

  16. 16
    nickel Says:

    Jennifer: You can justify their lack of response however you want, but I sure has heck would’ve thanked whoever took the time to pick it up and turn it in.

  17. 17
    Jennifer Says:

    Sure, I would have thanked them too, but the owner certainly does not owe them anything, including a thank you. It would have simply been a bonus.

  18. 18
    Eldon Says:

    I would have turned it into the police or mall office as well. One thing I find odd is that people are not trusting of the police etc. They are keeping us safe. I lived next door to a police officer for about 10 years and he is the first guy I’d trust. what is wrong with you people?

  19. 19
    mike Says:

    1. Turning it into the mall security guy? These guys make 7.50$ an hour, you think they wouldn’t keep it if they could?
    2. Cops are honest? You obviously live in la la land if you think cops don’t keep drugs or money they find in police raids. I have known personally cops who have admitted as much, not to mention the innumerable amount of cases of crooked cops you hear about on the news.
    3. Finding money is not illegal, anymore than taking oil from people or diamonds from Africa, by force of military.
    4. I bet the guy who walked into the security office just went in to use the bathroom.
    I don’t think he even got the money. Did you personally talk to him?
    5. If he did and didn’t even give you a small reward, he wasn’t worth giving the money back to. Meaning that he’s selfish, because he only thinks of his loss and not your action which has benefitted him. (jenifer above is an idiot)

  20. 20
    gtws Says:

    I’m rather amazed at many of the responses here (especially mike who is apparently the type of person that feels he is owed everything). The point is that doing the right thing is the only thing that matters. Doesn’t matter whether this is a bank or an individual or whether we expect a reward. The only thing to do is to turn the money over to the rightful owner and help our fellow citizens out. Anything short of this would be selfish and possibly criminal.

  21. 21
    mike Says:

    I actually don’t feel I’m owed anything, other than the truth.
    The question is actually ethical and has more to do with total responsibility of your actions.
    If I lost 1000$ by my own careless keeping of it in the woods, then whichever hiker happened upon it and kept it would be theirs by right. I would absolutely accept that it was through my own blunder and lack of caring that I lost it. I wouldn’t like it, but it would be the truth.
    If I took it out of another man’s pocket by force, that would be different, and wrong. Part of life is chance, and accept it or not, it is reality.
    2. If you turned it in with the demand that the finder of the money prove that it was theirs and contact you, then that is ok, based on your acceptance of the responsibility of the situation. Short of that ,and you simply live in a naive world. Peace in the Middle East.

  22. 22
    rockowl Says:

    Giving the money back was the only right thing to do. I remember once, while visiting the former USSR, dollars were not permitted. You had to convert your dollars when entering the country and upon leaving convert your rubles back into dollars. When leaving the country (through a security that was astonishing at the time – early 70s) I converted my rubles and realized that the Russian woman handling the transaction miscounted and gave me back way too much. I pointed out the mistake to her and the expression of gratitude and relief were so evident on her face that no translation was necessary. To this day, I still remember her look. Being the old USSR, I could only imagine what would have happened to her at the end of the day.

  23. 23
    Eldon Says:

    For mike: I do not live in la la land. I know that what you give out comes back to you an hundred fold. when you do right you are creating value in this world. those “durty cops” give the good ones a black eye. people can give “black eyes” by thier actions toward humananity. what are you giving? I bet you have had a black eye or two as well. just remember: those who give, also will get it in the end! I’ll say sorry for every person who done you wrong. Value is not always money, it is the type of person you are, what you do and your attude!

  24. 24
    cris Says:

    living in Europe let me think that 1000$ is almost nothing (I just paid 600 euros of gas bill), here you can barely survive for less than a month with that sum , but I was thinking , if instead of 1000$ in a wallet you find a bag with 1.000.000$ ?
    And if you give to police and someone claim it you ask for a tip or something ,or you stay happy with your debts while the other guy is enjoing the money ?

  25. 25
    JEANNETTE Says:

    I am facing this same thing! I am moving this coming weekend, down to the pennies and I found a wallet in a parking lot yesterday stuffed with money!!! My daughter and I went in the store and I contacted only the store manager, we counted the money together, there was close to 600 dollars and notheing else, no id or anything! I did not sleep to well last night wondering about it and this morning I called the police so they would do a report on it! did I do it the wrong way? I really hope to hear that the owner clamed their money, but how will I know if they really did or that the store manager took the money? wow this is a trip!

  26. 26
    Amanda Says:

    I recently lost my wallet with all my information in it.. it was foolish of me to leave my SS card in there.. but I also had about $430 in it since I was about to head to the bank to put the money safely into my account. however, I did call to cancel all my cards and signed up for identiy theft protection. I just wish that there is a person kind enough to return my wallet in one piece. I can deal without the money, however returning the wallet with the money is a plus and I would most likely give a reward!

  27. 27
    Robert Says:

    Giving it to the rightful owner is the proper thing to do….but do it so the rightful owner gets it….leave your name etc with security and play 20 questions when the owner calls…..I found a very expensive cell phone in a taxi I got into at the Pentagon….I looked at the driver and thought about one second and brought in home…tried getting numbers off cell…had security, so called the carrier number inside the battery area and in 10 minutes I recd “orders” to deliver the phone to etc. It turned out to be owned by the Chief of Intelligence for Naval operations for the North Atlantic….didn’t even get a thank you…I can imagine the taxi driver and who he would have sold it to.

  28. 28
    Sean Says:

    Eldon,
    Let’s get the fact straight. You are living in LA LA Land! I agree with Mike. Cops are crocks. Once they get a taste of what it’s like to be in charge, sometime they’d go off the line. There are plenty of them around. Maybe you got the hots for that cop living next door to you.
    About the lost money, I’d say, “Finders Keeper”. If it’s lost, then it’s mine period. I’d return the wallet, but I’d take the money. It’s my reward for finding it. If you want to be goody goody, then go ahead! Life is hard enough with money. If I give it back, I’d still feel lousy cause I could use the money. A lot of time, the reward is small. I’d say, Take it and run off! Buy your wife a dozen of roses and make your day grand! Eldon, remember, you are living in LA LA Land! It’s time to smell the shi* and face the reality!

  29. 29
    Mysti Says:

    Anil Dalal… About that i-pod you found. Usually they have a serial number on the back. If you contact Apple, and the person registered their i-pod, you should be able to get it back to him or her easily. Good luck!

    And Sean, Mike, and Eldon… You’re probably all partially correct. I don’t believe that all cops are “crocks” but it’s easy to assume that with all that power they would be tempted. I’m sure there are some “good” cops and some not so good cops… although I really doubt that any of them are outright evil (or outright Saints for that matter). I do however agree with Eldon the most… it doesn’t so much matter what they do as it matters what you do… Doing the right thing is making a worthwhile investment in the world… It’s easy to think that there are no good people in the world, but if someone does the right thing and you witness it, it’s hard to deny it… Ever heard that Gandhi quote “Be the change you wish to see in the world”?

  30. 30
    wacko-jacko Says:

    I say keep the money if there’s no one around/ no stores/ no ID

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