Does the phrase ‘finders keepers, losers weepers’ really stand up to legal scrutiny? According to experts, it depends.
Keeping money we find is something we all have done, whether it is discovering a penny on the side of the road or a five pound note down the back of the sofa.
But when does pocketing unattended money become a potential criminal matter, and what are your rights if you are the unlucky person to have lost the money?
In 2017, Nicole Bailey was convicted of theft and forced to pay nearly £200 in costs and compensation after she picked up a £20 note she found on a shop floor.
What does the law say?
The law is clear, with the Theft Act of 1968 stating that someone is guilty of theft if they “dishonestly appropriate property belonging to another”.
This means anything owned by another person, including cash, with lost property continuing to belong to its original owner unless it has been genuinely abandoned.
Cash being dropped in the street does not necessarily mean it has been abandoned, and it is up to the person finding the cash to be sure that the owner is untraceable.
What should you do?
If you find any amount of cash on the ground you should take it to the police who will process it and attempt to find the owner within 28 days.
If you found the cash in a shop or at a cashpoint, under the law you could end up in hot water- even if you found less than £10 and did not hand it in to staff or the bank.
Money left close to cashpoints or in cashpoints is especially easy to trace due to records of withdrawal and CCTV.
How long can you wait before claiming it?
If you bring in cash or property into a police station, you will usually have to wait at least 28 days before being able to claim the cash as your own.
Police will dispose of any property that may include personal data such as mobile phones or wallets.
However, after 28 days you may be entitled to claim the cash you found as your own. The police have the right to keep any money they find however if it helps with a police investigation or falls under certain exceptions.