Say I drop my wallet and 5 minutes later return to the spot to find it gone. Is it theft for the person who took it or is it a case of finder's keepers?


2 Answers 2


In England, their conduct would be considered 'Theft by Finding' in that they've (presumably) taken no steps to locate the rightful owner.

This means that if you find a wad of cash on the street and don’t attempt to return it to its owner – by handing it into the shop, for example, or the police – you’re guilty of theft.

Metro - When are you legally allowed to keep money you find on the floor?

Per the Theft Act (1968)

A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it ...

A person’s appropriation of property belonging to another is not to be regarded as dishonest ... if he appropriates the property in the belief that the person to whom the property belongs cannot be discovered by taking reasonable steps.


It depends on your exact location.

In California, it is legal to pick up lost property on the street. As the finder, you have to make a reasonable effort to return it to the owner. That will involve contacting the police and telling them. If even with all your efforts you can't find the owner, then you can keep the property after six months. If my bank cards were in my wallet, or my driving license, there is no way you can keep it without it being theft. (The exact name for the crime may be different, but it will be about the same severity as theft).

Finding banknotes is likely different (because finding the owner would be much more difficult), and finding a wallet in a place owned by someone (on the train, in someone else's home) and keeping it will be more serious, because you had no right to take it in the first place.

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