The Humanist Dilemma: What’s the Best Practice for Found Cash?

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Finders Keepers? I was in a busy museum when I decided to avoid the lines for the elevators and instead take the stairs. As I went up, I found a wad of bills someone must have dropped. I immediately went to a security guard and asked for the lost-and-found. With a big smile he said, “I’ll take care of that for you” and thanked me profusely as he took the cash.

I’m quite sure he pocketed the money. This has been bothering me ever since. Aside from feeling like a fool and thinking of the unfortunate person—perhaps a student or a tourist—who lost that money, I’m trying to figure out what I could have done to get it back to its rightful owner. The security guard may need it more than I, and perhaps more than whoever dropped it, but if I’d kept it I’d have donated it to a charity. Any suggestions for next time?

—Fool Me Once


Dear Fool Me Once,

No use beating yourself up about this. Who knows what would have happened if you turned it in to the lost-and-found—maybe another employee would have snatched it. This is why people should avoid carrying so much cash.

If something like this were to happen again, you could insist on taking the funds to the lost-and-found personally, and then work with them on how best to restore the money to the rightful owner. I wouldn’t hand it over, reveal how much it was, or where you found it. Instead, provide the staff with your contact information and ask them to get in touch with you if someone shows up looking for lost cash. Then the staff can contact you and describe where that person thinks the money went missing, how the bills were folded, how much it was—anything that might convince you that this was indeed who lost it. You could then arrange to get the money to them by meeting at the museum or another public place, or using an electronic funds transfer.

Most likely you’ll never hear anything. And then, after a reasonable waiting period (about a week or so), you’re free to do whatever you want with the cash. I love your idea of making a donation.

I once left my wallet in a cab, which I realized as soon as it drove away–but the receipt with the taxi ID was in the wallet. I had to borrow money to get back home, but when I arrived, my wallet was already there. The person who got into the cab after me saw it, instructed the cabby to take him to the address on my driver’s license, and gave it to my husband. Everything was intact—cash, credit cards, ID. The fellow refused any reward. He happened to be from the UK—I don’t know if that’s typical there, but it’s an example for all of us.