Pick up a penny on the ground, and no one will say you’re stealing. Finders keepers, right?
But how far does that rule of thumb extend? $10? $100?
For one couple in Pennsylvania, “finders keepers” was sound logic even when $120,000 showed up in their bank account this summer.
That is, until they got arrested.
When Robert and Tiffany Williams discovered the money in their account, instead of calling their bank, they spent almost all $120,000, buying two four-wheelers, a camper, a car trailer and more, as well as giving $15,000 to friends in need.
They are now facing felony theft charges and an overdraft of over $100,000.
“All I’m going to say is, we took some bad legal advice from some people, and it probably wasn’t the best thing in the end,” Robert Williams told CNN last week.
Well, Williams was right about that; it probably wasn’t the best thing in the end.
So what would you do in this situation?
Hopefully, as Christians, and even just as empathetic people, we would realize that this money had to have come from somewhere—from someone—and we would choose to do the right thing and give the money back.
The same goes for finding a wallet somewhere. Do you return the wallet but go on a spending spree first? No, of course not. Besides the fact that you would probably be caught, it’s very obviously the wrong thing to do.
But where do you draw the line? What about finding loose money somewhere? Many states in America have laws determining what we should do if we come into contact with lost or misplaced money; if you find money somewhere, many states require you to turn it in to the police. If no one can prove it’s theirs, you get it back after a period of time (usually 120 days).
But what about just a few dollars? In some states, this is still technically illegal; in others, small amounts of money (under $100) can be kept if you make a reasonable effort to find the owner (eg. look around the parking lot, scan your eyes down the street, etc.).
But besides considering this legally, we should consider it morally. Is it wrong to take the money? The Collegian surveyed 67 people on and off campus to see how much money they would have to find before they would turn it in to the police (We’re thorough; we know. This is definitely a representative sample of the world).
Even though they could have given any number they wanted, an interesting pattern emerged where most people gave the same four answers: $20, $50, $100 or $1,000. More than that, and they would turn the money in to the police, those surveyed said.
Here it is by the percentages: 27% said their limit was between $20 and $60; 46% said between $100 and $600; 18% said over $1,000; and nine percent said they would keep any amount, no matter how large the sum.
Interestingly, no one said they would return any amount less than $20 (although several said they’d donate the money instead of keeping it for themselves). Some even said, “I feel bad . . . but I’d keep it.”
Instead of using “finders keepers” as a rule of thumb, maybe we should consider the Golden Rule. What would you want someone to do if they found your $1,000?
So consider your conscience as you think about this situation. While most of us probably won’t run into thousands of dollars lying on the ground, it’s still something to think about.
If anything else, at least learn from the Williams and don’t immediately go on a spending spree of over $100,000.