Is it illegal to keep found money?

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A pile of dollar bills

Every state has laws requiring the return of found money or property if it is possible to identify the owner. If you find a wallet full $100 bills and the wallet has an ID in it, you cannot legally keep the money because the owner is identifiable. The same would be true if you found an envelope, trash bag, book, etc. full of $100 bills with a receipt with a name on it. As long as the owner is identifiable, you are obligated to report what happened to the local authorities. Doing otherwise is considered theft or larceny.

Some states have some variation of a “reasonable effort” law, meaning if you find money or property, you are legally obligated to make a reasonable effort to return it to the owner. In California, Penal Code Section 485 stipulates that if you find money you need to make “reasonable and just efforts to find the owner.” Otherwise, you’re “guilty of theft.”

If the owner is not easily identified, the laws differ from state to state, but most states still require that you report what you found to local law enforcement. The police will usually give the owner an opportunity to claim the money. If the money isn’t claimed, it may or may not be returned to you. It all depends on the laws in your locality. If you found something other than cash and it doesn’t get claimed, it will likely be sold at an auction.

Not turning in money or property that is known to be stolen usually has much stiffer penalties.

INTERESTING FACTS
  1. You can track where dollar bills have gone and where they are going using its serial number at WheresGeorge.com.
  2. While demolishing a Polish building in 1985, a vase filled with silver coins from the 14th century was found. They were valued at over $100 million.
  3. Companies and government have millions of dollars in unclaimed money and property waiting to be claimed. I was able to find about $500 worth of money owed to me when I used MissingMoney.com and Unclaimed.org a few years back. It’s free to use and I have nothing to gain if you use it.
INTERESTING VIDEO

INTERESTING REFERENCES
  1. HG.org – Found Money – What Are My Legal Obligations?
  2. CriminalDefenseLawyer.com – Can I keep a bunch of cash that I found?
  3. MentalFloss.com – 7 of the Biggest Treasure Troves Ever Found

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