Moral Quandary

What to do with “found money”?  Read this little story, and then go beneath the fold for my take.

If I found a similar sum of money under those circumstances, it would be the best-kept secret in history.

I sure as hell wouldn’t contact the police, or the previous owner, and definitely not a lawyer.  The first would confiscate it, the second would claim it, and the third would be full of bullshit legal “advice”, and all of that would result in one outcome:  I wouldn’t have that cash anymore.

I am reminded of the the immortal words of the Bard:

“Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands…”

Iago’s talking about cash money here, and if ever there’s a better philosophy about cash than “‘Twas mine, ’tis his” I haven’t discovered one yet.  (No, I’m not condoning actual robbery;  try to keep up.)

It’s the reason why when something lost is found, the claimant has to provide some kind of proof of ownership — the old joke of “a bag of $5,000 has been found in the street;  will the owner please form a single-line queue outside the office” certainly covers it.

And in the story above, the previous owner of the house — well, of course he was going to say it was his.  What else was he going to say?

The other day, I bought a couple of lottery tickets from one of those self-service kiosks at the supermarket, and shoved them in my shopping bag.  When I got to the car, I took them out to transfer them to my pocket, and found only one, not two.  Clearly, I’d left one in the machine.  So I went back inside, and looked for it in the little slot (conveniently located mere inches above the floor, of course), but there was nothing there.  I asked at Customer Service whether anyone had turned in a found lottery ticket, and of course got a negative response.  Did I get upset about it?  Only at myself for my carelessness — because a lottery ticket, once issued, is a bearer instrument, or the equivalent of cash (until you sign the back).

Twas mine, ’tis his.  So I shrugged, and just bought a replacement.  (As it happened, my lost ticket wasn’t a winner — nobody won that particular lottery drawing, so I didn’t have to kill myself.)

I know that there are all sorts of laws about “found money” — mostly created by lawyers and politicians, for whom I have less respect than for earthworms — but of course, the key to any law enforcement is knowledge that the law has been transgressed.

Like I said:  the best-kept secret in history.


  1. That finder is a dunce and I hope it bothers him for a long time.

    I have a long standing rule, ALL things in my house are MINE and nobody else gets to say anything about it.

    Also, I tend to NOT run my mouth about stuff I own as it’s no ones business but my own.

  2. ‘theft by finding’? Seriously? That’s a law? Only in the UK.. I think.. I’d like to hear any US lawyer speak up on that. I did a cursory search of Virginia code and I didn’t see anything obvious. Now of course in the US you would have to report it as income and pay an appropriate tax on it I think. But if its cash? Keeping the “best-kept” secret in history indeed!

    1. Yeah, sure looks like some UK BS. All the cases are 19th century cases, which means “made up bullshit.” In any event, if the cash was in the house, and you bought the house, the cash conveys with the house, just like the doorknobs and curtain rods.

    2. “Stealing by finding” is also the law in Australia; at least it is in Western Australia where I live. Handed in to police, it becomes yours if not claimed after 90 days.

  3. This story falls under the category of ” No good deed goes unpunished.” As far as I’m concerned the cash came with the house, just like the rake a shovel left in the garage, the washer dryer in the laundry room and the refrigerator in the kitchen. No difference.

    Deposit it in smaller ( 2 to 3k), odd amounts aver time in a bank account.

    1. Nope, bank deposits leave a discoverable paper trail.

      The amount isn’t life changing, but it can be life enhancing over three to four years. Shift most of your transactions to cash and blend the good fortune into your normal cash flow. Over that period of time your bank account can:
      Look like you’ve prudently tightened your belt a little to generate some investment capital, or
      Give you a few years of enhanced outgo.
      Of the two, the first option is preferred because it’ll be difficult to back down from the higher spending you’ve become accustomed to if you choose the “temporary” higher spending option.

      1. My thoughts exactly, but you wrote it much more nicely than I am capable.

        For instance, buy groceries with cash over the next few years.

  4. I go with the ancient legal principle of “finxerunt custodes victi flentium” (online translation, don’t know how accurate it is).

    AKA: Finders keepers, losers weepers. If there’s no name attached to a found item, then it’s up for grabs as far as I’m concerned. Certain conditions apply of course (if it’s sitting on someone’s car, in someone’s yard, etc).

    Britain seems to still operate under the principle that everything (and everyone) belongs to the State.

  5. I have some fun & relevant experience in this.

    A few years after my father passed, I scooped my inheritance up out of the unimpressive yields of managed funds to buy a cabin up in the mountains. It’s a small cabin on a small plot of land, and it’s ours, free and clear. There’s no feeling quite like that.

    As wife & I were cleaning out the junk from the attic, one of the floorboards shifted. Underneath it was a holster for a Glock 19, and a gunsafe.


    It was heavy. I could tell there were several shifting masses inside.

    With visions of free Glocks dancing in my head, I consulted a lawyer on the status of the safe and its contents. I was assured that title to the home AND EVERYTHING IN IT had legally and conclusively transferred to me without any drama, without respect to whatever was in the safe: guns, gold, or stacks of $100s. I had no legal or moral duty to disclose, register, or any other nonsense.

    When we got the safe open, alas, sigh, there was no Glock. 🙁 There was an empty holster, two 50 round boxes of premium 9mm ammo, and a couple of spare mags.

    SWEET! Free mags and ammo!

    Apparently, this is not the same as finding a bag of cash on the street or in the parking lot. As the finder, you have a secondary claim to it, after the original owners. The procedure for perfecting the claim varies from one state to another.

    I’m not a lawyer, this isn’t legal advice, blah blah blah.

  6. In this case (assuming the details in the article are true) , the money appears to be abandoned property and I do not see any moral obligation to turn it in. Keeping it a secret is just a good idea in a world infested with obnoxious busybodies.

  7. Kansas statute – 21-5802 governs found property. Keeping lost property is theft – IF: 1) you know or learn of the rightful owner, 2) fail to take reasonable measures to restore the property to its owner, and 3) intend to permanently deprive the owner of it.

    There you go. Kansas statute is usually (but not always) pretty much in line with most other US jurisdictions.

    1. …always assuming that said theft is ever discovered. In the case of the cash left behind in the house, the previous owner has to prove that a.) said cash ever existed and b.) he himself was the rightful owner and proof of how he came by it. a.) is almost impossible to prove, and b.)… also pretty much impossible, especially when it doesn’t exist.

      Actual property, e.g. a valuable painting, sure. But cash?

      1. If you find a cache of silver dollars and gold eagles buried by the Hole in the Wall gang in the 1800’s, who owns it?

        I do. Screw off.

  8. Agreed – ‘theft by finding’ !! Really ? Talk about vague & covers EVERY possible scenario !
    We have something similar over here called ‘civil forfeiture’. If the ‘authorities’ even THINK ( that’s THINK, NOT KNOW or SUSPECT or HAVE REASON TO BELIEVE but just T H I N K ! ) that the large amount of cash you are carrying was involved IN ANY WAY with ANY CRIMINAL activity they can seize it ON THE SPOT and YOU get to PROVE that it’s yours, in court, and footing the bill for your own lawyers /expenses !!!
    The intent of this law was, like all intents, ‘well intended’ as it would, in someone’s mind of course, impoverish drug traffickers and other criminals by taking their money !! Really worked out well hasn’t it ??!!
    If you want to read other horror stories, get some of the articles, books etc on what some treasure hunters went through after finding gold from 16th, 17th and 18th century ship wrecks in the Caribbean and Florida coasts.
    The FIRST people to show up were the ‘authorities’ with their hands out for their ‘cut’ if not EVERY BIT of whatever the treasure hunters had found !!
    Best approach I can think of is keep your mouth SHUT !

  9. £24k in cash? Sounds to me like walkin’ around money for the next decade, with drinks all around once a month to confirm my neighbors’ good opinion of me.

  10. I had in laws of in laws who were professionals at obscuring their real income levels. The first rule for them was that hot cash never, ever hits the bank account.

    Hiding additional cash requires one to take all living expenses out of the bank, and pay cash for all bills. MVNO cell phones help here, you can buy prepaid cards at the grocery store. Postpaid, you have to pay at the store. Buy gas in cash. Buy groceries in cash. Airlines sell gift cards at stores too. Cash donations anonymously make the world go around….

    You may not be able to rejoin the card world for years, if ever. Also be warned, if the bills are marked or serial numbers recorded, all bets are off: the feds will get involved and eventually you will get found through traffic analysis. You’re better off turning in and hoping there’s a reward then.

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