Legal Awareness Rights

Is It Illegal to Keep Money That You Find?

Yes, it is illegal to keep money that you find, as it is considered theft. In most jurisdictions, the law requires you to make a reasonable effort to return the money to its rightful owner or turn it over to the authorities.

Failure to do so could result in legal consequences such as being charged with theft or larceny. Finding money unexpectedly can be a tempting windfall, but the ethical and legal implications can be significant. Being aware of the legal and moral ramifications of recovered money can help you avoid legal issues and make sure that you follow the law.

Keeping Found Money

Laws Regarding Found Money

The laws regarding found money can be quite intricate, and it’s important to understand your legal obligations depending on the jurisdiction you reside in.

When we talk about ‘found money,’ it refers to any cash or valuables discovered in a public place with no visible owner. This could include stumbling upon a bill on the sidewalk or finding a lost wallet. However, the term ‘found money’ does not apply to instances where you come across someone else’s possessions in their private property.

Once you find money, the law typically imposes certain legal obligations on you as the finder. In most jurisdictions, there is a requirement to make a good faith effort to locate the rightful owner and return the money. This means you should take reasonable steps to discover who the money belongs to, such as checking for identification or notifying local authorities.

Not fulfilling your legal obligations may result in potential penalties or even criminal charges. It’s important to note that the specifics of these obligations can vary depending on where you are. Some jurisdictions may require you to turn over the found money to the police or other authority, while others may allow you to hold onto it for a certain period before it is considered yours.

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Differences By Jurisdiction

The laws surrounding found money differ by jurisdiction, meaning the regulations and legal obligations can vary from one place to another. It is crucial to research and understand the laws in your specific jurisdiction to ensure you are abiding by the correct procedures.

To illustrate the differences more clearly, here’s a table that summarizes the general approach to found money in several jurisdictions:

JurisdictionLegal Obligations
United StatesNotify local authorities and make a diligent effort to locate the owner.
United KingdomHand over to the police, who will then attempt to find the rightful owner.
AustraliaAttempt to locate the owner, and if unable to do so, turn it over to the police.

Remember, this table only provides a general overview, and the specific laws in these jurisdictions may have additional nuances that you need to consider.

Consequences Of Keeping Found Money

Discovering a wallet filled with cash or stumbling upon a bag of money may seem like a stroke of luck, but what are the legal implications of keeping that found money?

Many people find themselves wondering if it is illegal to keep money that they find, and the answer is not as straightforward as one might expect. While intentions may be innocent, holding onto found money can carry significant consequences, both civil and criminal.

Civil And Criminal Penalties

When it comes to keeping found money, individuals may become subject to both civil and criminal penalties. Civil penalties typically involve lawsuits brought about by the rightful owner of the money, claiming its return. In these cases, it is important to note that possession of found money does not equate to ownership or the legal right to keep it.

On the criminal side, intentionally keeping found money can potentially lead to theft charges. The specific charge may vary based on the jurisdiction, but regardless, intentionally retaining found money without attempting to locate the owner or report the discovery can be viewed as theft.

Potential Charges

There are various potential charges individuals may face if they choose to keep found money:

  • Theft: Knowingly keeping found money without taking appropriate steps to return it may result in theft charges.
  • Conversion: Failure to make reasonable attempts to identify and locate the owner of found money can potentially lead to conversion charges.
  • Misappropriation: If it can be proven that the found money was intended for a specific purpose or person, withholding it can result in misappropriation charges.

Mitigating Factors

While the consequences for keeping found money can be severe, there are certain mitigating factors that might influence the legal outcomes:

  1. Prompt Reporting: If the discovery of found money is reported to the authorities promptly, it demonstrates a good faith effort to handle the situation responsibly.
  2. Attempts to Locate the Owner: Taking reasonable steps to locate and return the money to its rightful owner can help demonstrate lack of criminal intent.
  3. Local Laws and Regulations: Understanding and adhering to specific local laws and regulations regarding found money can also play a role in mitigating potential legal consequences.

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Steps To Take When Finding Money

When you come across found money, it’s important to first attempt to identify the owner if possible. Look for any identifying information near where the money was found, such as a wallet, envelope, or any indications of where it may have come from.

If you’re unable to locate the owner of the found money, the next step is to report the finding to the relevant authorities or establishment where the money was found. This may involve notifying the local police station or turning the money in to the management of the place where it was discovered. Reporting the found money is crucial in demonstrating good faith and integrity.

If the owner cannot be identified and the money cannot be immediately returned, it’s essential to keep the found money in temporary custody until further action can be taken. This may involve securing the money in a safe place while awaiting potential claims from the rightful owner or instructions from authorities on the proper course of action.

Exceptions To The General Rule

Treasure trove laws in some states may allow individuals to keep money or valuables that they find if the items are considered treasure trove, which typically includes items of value that are hidden underground or concealed over a long period of time.

This can include old coins, jewelry, or artifacts with historical significance. However, it’s important to note that the specifics of treasure trove laws vary by state, and certain conditions must be met for the finder to legally claim the discovered items.

In the case of abandoned property, individuals may be allowed to keep money or other items they find if the property is deemed to be abandoned.

Abandoned property refers to items that are intentionally discarded or left behind with no intention of reclaiming them by the original owner. Abandoned property laws vary by state, so it’s crucial to understand the specific regulations in your area before keeping any found items.


It is important to understand the laws and regulations surrounding found money. While it may be tempting to keep the money, it is typically not legal to do so without making appropriate efforts to find the rightful owner. By reporting found money and turning it in to the authorities, you can ensure that you are not breaking any laws and acting ethically.

Always remember that honesty is always the best policy when it comes to found money.