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Is it theft if you keep a lost wallet?

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2022 | Criminal Defense

You may have been walking one day and noticed something fallen on the ground only to find that it’s a wallet. You looked inside and found there was a license, a receipt, twenty dollars, a credit card, a photo and a coupon – just about everything you would find in a typical wallet. You may be considering what options you have now.

Are you supposed to return a lost wallet? Is it stealing to keep the contents inside? What if you can’t find the owner of the wallet? Here’s what you should know:

Doing your civic duty and returning a lost wallet

The very first inclination for many people is to return a lost wallet to its owner in the same condition it was found – this may also be the best choice to avoid legal charges. Often, there is some indication of who owns the wallet from its contents: A license, credit card or business card. At this point, you may try contacting the owner.

If you’re having difficulties contacting the owner of a wallet, or there’s no contact information available, the next best step may be to take it to a clerk (if you found it at a store) or police station (if you found it on the open streets). People often trace their steps when looking for lost property and may ask employees or officers if their wallet was put in lost-and-found. 

Keeping a wallet could be considered theft

On the other hand, the first instinct for some people may be to keep the contents of a wallet – under the idea that it’s “finders-keepers.” However, a wallet, even while lost, is someone’s property and stealing from it could be considered theft.

If you’re charged with stealing a lost wallet – despite doing everything in your power to return it – then you may need to seek legal help to clear your name.