What to Do with a Found Wallet

A common concern is what to do with a found wallet. It's critical to know what to do in that situation before it happens.

What would you do with a lost wallet? Keep it? Take the cash? Return it to its rightful owner?

Suppose you took your dog for a walk on a dark, rainy night, and you spot what appears to be a wallet stuffed with cash lying on the sidewalk in front of you.

There’s not another soul on the street, and no one would know if you picked it up. What would you do?

Better yet, what do you think most people would do?​

That One Time I Found a Wallet

When I was younger, I found a lost wallet. As I held it in my hands, my mind ran the gambit of possibilities. It had a large amount of cash in it (almost $400), so feelings of greed were bubbling up.

It was the 90's, and I was in high school working a minimum wage job. $400 was a huge amount of money to me at the time.

I pondered what to do. After thinking about it for 5-10 minutes, I realized keeping the money was not worth the guilt, nor the potential moral, ethical, or legal consequences.

I contacted the owner and returned it. To my surprise, he gave me a $100 reward! However, the look on his face, the gratitude, and the respect I saw in his eyes were worth way more than the $100. It's stayed with me for decades.

What to Do When You Find a Wallet

In the human psyche (in all of us), there's the natural urge to take advantage of potentially prosperous situations.

It's human nature to be greedy sometimes. However, there's sometimes significant consequences, especially in this situation. Don't let greed get the best of you.

So before you start fantasizing about new cars or tropical vacations, you should know that every state has laws about finding property. Often, these laws are intended to be more than just helpful guidelines.

Those laws say that if you can identify the rightful owner, you are required to return their lost property to them. No matter how tempted you might be to keep the wallet and its contents, scoffing at the law can cause more trouble than you may realize.

Remember, you don’t know anything about the habits or character of the wallet’s owner. Check your rationalizations at the door.

Things to Consider

Assuming that you’re savvy enough to recognize and immediately remove anything that might be illegal to have in your possession, you could still find yourself in a delicate situation.

Imagine if you’re caught holding the wallet but have not tried to return it. What might that look like to the police?

Let me repeat, that wallet you found might have some illegal substances or materials in it. Make sure you inspect it to know what you're carrying with you.

Also consider: what if it was stolen by someone else, ripped of cash, then dropped? And the police are looking for a suspect? Keep that in mind.

Keeping lost property without making an effort to find the owner is considered theft according to most state laws!

But that may be the least of your troubles. Suppose that the owner has been the victim of a recent crime involving physical assault? Would you want to have their wallet in your possession? Heck no!

So even if you really, really want to keep the contents, you are probably better off doing your best to get the wallet back to its rightful owner.

How to Return a Lost Wallet

The simplest and safest way to resolve the problem is to just turn the wallet into your local police station. There, it will be held in an evidence room until it's claimed by the owner or destroyed.

The same goes for a found driver's license. The police will contact the owner for you.

While the prospect of giving up your new-found riches might make you want to cry, the good news is that the laws that require the return of lost property also have a “finder’s keepers” provision.

If the owner does not claim the wallet within a specified period of time, you might be entitled to keep that money after all!

If you are lucky enough to have found a lot of money, you might want to ask an attorney to accompany you when you go to the police.

The attorney will be familiar with the laws in your area and can make sure that the police return your windfall to you as soon as they are legally permitted.

There will be tax consequences for keeping the money of course. Your attorney can help you with that issue as well.

What if There’s No Money in the Wallet?

What happens if you find a wallet, but there's no money in it?

It’s bad enough to be the victim of a robbery but in many cases, having your identity stolen can be far more costly than losing all of the cash in your wallet.

You could be doing the owner a tremendous service by letting him know that you’ve found his wallet. He or she will be extremely grateful and will probably reward. The same goes for returning a found driver's license.

This could spare him or her the time-consuming and expensive process of canceling credit cards and replacing identification.

If there is a driver’s license in the wallet, social media outlets such as Facebook might be able to provide a way to find and contact the owner. Business and membership cards can also offer some clues as to places where the owner might work or frequent.

Some names are more common than others. If you can contact the person who you believe is the owner, don’t volunteer too much information. They will know if they’ve lost their wallet and should be able to give you specific details about it and the contents.

Once you’re sure that you are talking to the rightful owner, you can arrange to meet them and return it.

It’s prudent to approach your good deed with the same amount of caution that you’d use the first time you meet with someone you’ve been chatting with online.

Make arrangements to meet in a public place where there are a lot of other people around. Preferably, you can meet at your local police station.

If there’s no driver’s license in the wallet found, you may still be able to return the wallet to the owner if you can find an ATM card.

Take the wallet found to the closest branch. They can look up the account number and contact their customer. The bank will want to protect their customers. Their valuables will be safe there.

Don’t Make it Someone Else’s Problem

Are you confident that you’ll know exactly what to do with a found wallet? Here are some tips on things that you shouldn’t do.

Don’t just leave the wallet laying there so that someone else has to deal with it.

Even if you think it might be a joke, pick it up. There's only a rare chance that it’s laying on the ground because a hidden film crew is filming.

Also, don’t leave it at a business close to where you found it. You have no way of knowing whether or not the person who you turn it over to will do the right thing. Don't give them more credit than they deserve.

Conclusion​

To summarize what to do if you find a wallet or any valuables, follow the golden rule.

If you find something of value, do what you hope others would do for you if you were in the same situation. Pick it up and make a reasonable effort to return it to the rightful owner.

You may or may not get a cash reward for your troubles, but ultimately you’ll know you did the right thing. Often times, that can be worth more than a million bucks, and good karma will come your way!