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There have been many times over the years when a Brinks truck has overturned, or the security guards forgot to lock the rear doors, and money came out of it while in route to its destination.

Say a person happens to come upon a bag of money that came out of a Brinks truck, and he/she takes it with the sincere intention of returning it to Brinks, but before they do this, they first buy stocks with the money and make a lot of money from this investment.

Then lets say he/she drops off the bag, with the same amount of money that had been in it, to the local Brinks office, say late at night when that office is closed, with a note saying 'I found this bag on the side of the road today. -Anonymous'.

If Brinks does an investigation and is able to track down this person and discovers that he/she had profited on Wall Street using money from a missing bag, will this person go to prison? Is there an existing law(s) that make doing such a thing illegal?

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    If you found somebody had left their keys in the car, and you "borrowed" it but returned it with a full tank of gas, would it still be theft? Yes... – Ron Beyer Oct 5 '18 at 1:25
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This is a rather elaborate version of receiving stolen property. It is a crime because you know that the property is not yours and you know who it belongs to. The fact that funds were returned mitigates the punishment that might be imposed, but disgorgement of profits as well as principal would be a typical criminal restitution in such a case. A prosecutor could decline to press charges (and often would decline to do so), but would have the authority to do so.

An analogous case that comes up more frequently is when an attorney takes client funds out of his trust account (either accidentally or intentionally) and then uses the funds in a way that produces a profit or avoids, for example, a late payment penalty, and then returns the funds improperly withdrawn from the trust account. This is still conduct for which attorneys are routinely disbarred and prosecuted criminally.

Even if the person didn't know that the money belonged to someone else when it was used, the true owner of the money could sue for unjust enrichment for both the funds and the proceeds from the funds.

For example, if funds were accidentally deposited in your bank account rather than the correct one due to a transposition of numbers in the account number, and you didn't notice this error, you would have liability to return not just the accidentally deposited funds, but also the profits from those funds, because both would be unjust enrichment. But, in an accidental case where there was no knowledge that the funds were wrongfully placed in your account, you could deduct from the amount to be returned any banking charges you incurred with respect to the transactions and it would not be a crime.

  • For a profit to qualify to be unjust enrichment it needs to be made at the expense of someone. If someone makes huge profits using their trading skills/luck (as opposed to savings interest that banks pay), how could that be at the expense of the owner of the principal? – Greendrake Oct 5 '18 at 3:21
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    @Greendrake No. Unjust enrichment claims are routinely brought and allowed in cases where the unjust enrichment is not at the expense of someone, which is one of the important reasons that it is distinguished form implied contract and promissory estoppel. The modern trend in the U.S. it towards the "absence of basis" approach used in civil law countries and described in your link, and this has been true since at least the 1980s. At the expense of someone is more of a First Restatement of Contract philosophy from the 1930s. – ohwilleke Oct 5 '18 at 3:23

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