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Finders keepers: not words to live by in Florida

You're at the mall with your friends, when you spot a pair of Gucci sunglasses in pristine condition on the ground. Another shopper must have accidentally dropped them. And now you get free sunglasses! It's your lucky day, right? Think again.

In Florida, if you take something you find on the ground, the state considers that theft by finding. You could find yourself in real trouble--or even in jail.

What is theft by finding?

Under Florida law, it is a crime to take any lost or abandoned property. "Lost or abandoned property" is considered any property that:

  • Is tangible
  • Has value
  • Does not have an identifiable owner
  • Has been left in a public space--in a park, at a restaurant, on a bus etc.

The law requires you to turn in any lost or abandoned property you find to the police. If the item is worth more than $100, the police will try to track down the rightful owner by advertising the found item.

In South Florida, the police post many found items on the police auction website propertyroom.com. If the rightful owner finds their lost item on this site, they can submit an application to get it back.

Penalties

If you find an item and get caught keeping it, the penalties can be stiff. Theft by finding is considered petit theft for low-value items and grand theft for items of higher value. The penalties for each are:

  • Petit theft (for property under $300 in value): 6-12 months in jail/on probation, $500-$1,000 in fines
  • Grand theft (for property $300-$20,000 in value): up to five years in prison/on probation, up to $5,000 in fines

Inconvenience

Florida law doesn't make it easy for the good Samaritan doing the right thing, though. As the finder, when you take a found item to the police, you also have to pay the fees for the police to store and advertise that item. The silver lining here is that you can expect to get paid back--in some form. If the rightful owner reclaims the lost item, they will have to reimburse you for your expenses. If the rightful owner doesn't come forward within 90 days, you can also claim ownership of the item yourself.

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