It can happen to anyone, and can happen anywhere. You’re going about your business when you suddenly find a wallet on the ground. You look around to see if you can still spot the person who lost it, but they don’t seem to be nearby. You pick it up, open it carefully, and are shocked by what you see inside.
This scenario happens every single day, and some of the best, most responsible people can be either the wallet loser or the wallet finder. Unfortunately, picking up someone’s personal—and possibly even valuable—property can come with both risks and benefits.
Of course, the very first benefit is the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan, to be a bright spot in someone’s day. After all, they’ve just lost something very important, and the consequences for them can range from aggravating to downright terrible. Returning their property to them in the condition in which they lost it can really make you feel good.
At the same time, you could be opening yourself up to a few risks. What if the owner claims there was a lot of money in it, money that was long gone before you ever found it? What if the owner later accuses you—either innocently or maliciously—of identity theft or financial account takeover? Maybe this chance to help someone is just too big of a burden after all…
Your next steps in a situation like this can vary a little bit depending on where you located the wallet. If you’re in a store or business, your gym, a doctor’s office, or any other location that has a surveillance camera, you’re probably in the clear from accusations. Remain visible while picking it up, and turn it in at the front desk immediately. If you feel it’s necessary, you can wait while the attendant tries to locate the owner. The driver’s license, credit cards, and any retail rewards cards can help; just call the number on the credit cards or rewards cards and provide the name or account number. They should have a contact number for the owner, and can pass along the location of the wallet.
But what if you’re out in the open? A wallet can easily fall out of someone’s pocket, briefcase, or handbag, and there might not be security cameras to help you prove that you had every innocent intention. It’s best in this case to dial the local police department’s non-emergency number—please do not tie up the 911 dispatch system for something like this—and tell them that you are standing near a lost wallet. Ask for a patrol vehicle in the area to come and take over, and wait with the wallet if you can.
What should you do if someone comes up and claims to be the owner? Let it go. Whether they are the owner or not is not really in your wheelhouse. You are not responsible for someone who may or may not have criminal intentions, and getting into an argument over the property is not worth it in the end.
NOTE: It’s very tempting to post about the wallet on social media sites like Facebook in order to track down the owner, but that is not a good idea. You have no way of identifying the real owner, and you could risk compromising that person’s identity if you post a photo that includes part of the driver’s license, a credit card, a checking account number, or other details.
Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.