It can happen to anyone, anywhere. You’re going about your business when suddenly you’ve found a lost wallet on the ground. You look around to see if you can spot the person who lost the found wallet, 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 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.

Steps to Take If You Found a Lost Wallet

The very first benefit of a found wallet is the opportunity to be a Good Samaritan, to be a bright spot in someone’s day. After all, they’ve just lost something essential. The consequences for them can range from aggravating to terrible. Returning the found wallet to them in the condition in which they lost it can make you feel good.

At the same time, if you found a lost wallet, 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 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 the found wallet 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.

What if you’re out in the open?

A wallet can easily fall out of someone’s pocket, briefcase or handbag. 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—don’t tie up the 911 dispatch system for something like this—and tell them that you found a lost wallet and are standing near it. Ask for a patrol vehicle in the area to come and take over, and wait with the found wallet if you can.

What should you do if someone comes up and claims to be the owner?

  • Let it go. Whether or not they are the owner is not in your wheelhouse. You are not responsible for someone who may or may not have criminal intentions. Getting into an argument over the property is not worth it in the end.

Should you post it on social media?

  • It’s very tempting to post about the found 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. You could risk compromising that person’s identity if you post a photo containing part of the driver’s license, a credit card, a checking account number or other details.

Contact the ITRC

If you found a lost wallet, it is important to take the proper steps to protect it and what is inside it. If you have additional questions, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center. You can get toll-free, no-cost assistance by phone (888.400) or live-chat on the company website www.idtheftcenter.org.

This post was originally published on 7/9/18 and was updated on 8/24/21