WE all like something for nothing, but there’s a good reason you should think twice before picking up cash you find on the pavement. Most of us would at least be a little tempted to slip the notes in our pocket – and hope no one would notice.
1Legal expert Martin Pizzey explains why you should never pick up money from the floorCredit: Alamy
You might think it’s a case of “finders keepers, losers weepers” – but it could land you in a whole load of trouble.
But Martin Pizzey, a partner at Stephensons Solicitors, said anyone who picks up someone else’s cash could be committing an offence called “theft by finding”.
For taking something you’ve found – like cash – to be classed as theft, “dishonesty” has to be proven.
The Theft Act 1968 says that a person can’t be found to be dishonest if they took “reasonable steps” to find out who the property (cash) belongs to.
This could mean handing the note in the nearest police station.
Martin said: “Tell the officer on duty your name, where you found it, at what time, and that you don’t know who it belongs to.
“Ask for a receipt, and ask that if no one comes to claim it in four weeks, can you come and collect it.”
Martin said that if you have a reasonable grounds to belief that the money you found has been discarded, you could also be protected by the law.
He added: “This could apply to finding say £1 or a 50p, because no one is going to search for an honour for a bit of loose change they’ve dropped.
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“But anything of a greater value, the person who dropped it out of their pocket or wallet, wouldn’t consider it as discarded, and they are likely to go back and look for it.
“That is why reasonableness is on a scale.
“The person who picks it up needs to raise that question, and the higher the value, the less chance it has been discarded – but it’s risky.”
Martin says it’s always best wise to err on the side of caution when finding notes and hand them in.
This is especially true in places that are monitored by CCTV, such as shops, restaurants and bars, and where the owner could be identified.
But there’s another very good reason to stick to the “honesty is the best policy” route – you might get a reward.
If the cash is claimed, the owner might offer a gesture of thanks.
And if it is not claimed by the rightful owner, then after 28 days you may be able to claim it for your own – you just need to leave your contact details when you hand it in at a police station and they’ll let you know if this is the case.
What about old money and treasure?
The law is different regarding antique money and there are all sorts of regulations governing what you must do with significant finds.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the Treasure Act of 1996 states that finds of gold or silver that are older than 300 years must be claimed for the crown, and reported within 14 days.
If your find falls in this category it will be independently valued, and museums have the option to raise funds to acquire the find and the money is divided equally between the finder and landowner.
If you do hand a large sum of money over to the police, you shouldn’t assume you will always get it back if it goes unclaimed.
It may become the property of the public purse if it is linked to criminal activity.