What luck! You found $1M in a suitcase while hiking in the wilderness. Because you are a law abiding citizen, you diligently report all your found money to the IRS. No one, including yourself, has any way to prove that you did or did not cause this money to be where it was or that you did or did not know it would be there.

Are you within the law?

Being more serious, is unexplained money in and of itself illegal if you report all your income to the IRS? If an explanation is required, are "I found it", "anonymous gift", or "I decline to explain" a sufficient explanation?

On face, it sounds draconian and absurd to outlaw finding money. On the other hand, it's likely that someone who regularly "finds" large amounts of money is an inept money launderer and engages in other illegal activities. It wouldn't be too surprising if simply having large amounts of unexplained money in and of itself was illegal.

Does the situation change if instead you find a bag of diamonds (or any other asset) while on your hike? What if this happens on a regular basis?

I'm interested in US law.

  • 1
    IANAL but possession of stolen property is a crime. You have to suspect it could be stolen. You need to deal with the stolen property part before the IRS. You need to deal with does the rightful owner have a claim before you deal with the IRS. Just finding something does not automatically make it your property. – paparazzo Aug 6 '15 at 18:30

I am unfamiliar with specifically US laws on this but under common law (which US law is derived from) there is the crime of "Theft by Finding", however, because you turned it over to the authorities who, after the required time period were unable to find the rightful owner, the money becomes yours.

However, you still have to pay your taxes on it: http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2014/07/03/found-money-is-awesomebut-must-pay-uncle-sam/

As far as I can see, income is income whether it comes as cash, diamonds or long lost antiques.

As far as the money laundering aspect, that is something the authorities would need to prove - as opposed to you just being lucky.

  • 1
    Relevant: civil asset forfeiture. The money may not become the property of the finder in all cases. – jimsug Aug 5 '15 at 1:40
  • @jimsug My understanding is that there needs to be some related crime (but not necessarily a conviction) for civil asset forfeiture to apply. – Praxeolitic Aug 5 '15 at 2:13
  • 1
    Just saying, but if it was an extremely high amount like the $1M mentioned in the question, chances are about 0.000001% you'd ever see that money again after turning it over. It would likely get labelled as "evidence" and get locked up in a FBI facility somewhere for the rest of eternity. Because let's face it, no one just leaves a suitcase with a million dollars worth of bills, diamonds, or whatever in it just laying around somewhere. If it were a more reasonable "found it" value like, say, $500, you'd probably end up with it afterwards. – animuson Aug 5 '15 at 5:23
  • 2
    This real life event seems highly relevant jcameronlaw.com/… – DJohnM Aug 5 '15 at 5:29
  • 1
    @animuson get a receipt! – Dale M Aug 5 '15 at 5:48

Answering under Czech Republic jurisdiction (not the United States):

No, you are not permitted to retain the money even if you pay taxes of it. The crime you commit is called Concealement (as in "you keep for yourself things that you found are not yours") and, if you keep an amount as high as $1M, the penalty is 2 to 8 years in prison, the prison sentence being mandatory.

Around here, keeping money you found starts being a crime at the value of $200.

To prevent being sentenced, you must find the owner and return the money to him, or, failing that, hand it over to the police who will attempt to locate the rightful owner, and, if it fails, the money will end up in the local safe, where it must be kept for about 10 years, I think, in case somebody comes back for it.

You do have a right to get some of the money (a finder's fee) that is 10% of the found amount.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.