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Finders' keepers, loser weepers?

The old English adage that is based on an ancient Roman law still finds a way to make a home within modern society. Children taunt each other on the playground with a singsong version of "finders' keepers, loser weepers!" when they discover something left behind, and the owner is nowhere in sight. As innocent as it seems, keeping a found object that does not belong to you is a form of stealing. (Yes, this includes money).

Is it possible to steal something that has been lost?

The act of stealing occurs when a person who deliberately, without consent, takes the personal property of someone else with the intention of depriving them of it permanently. Any lost and tangible item is capable of being stolen. However, if an article is "abandoned," this means the proprietor has relinquished ownership. The physical act of taking a commodity does not in and of itself constitute as stealing. Exercising unauthorized control over another person's property is also considered a form of larceny.

Legal obligation

Handing in a lost item shows a law enforcement officer or another authoritative figure that as the finder you are not planning on maintaining the object for your use. By turning in the item, you are legally fulfilling your obligation to take reasonable measures to reunite the lost thing with its owner. Good faith efforts include:

  • Search online or use other means to look for information identifying the owner
  • Speak with the locale in which the goods were found
  • Contact local police to see if the object has been reported as missing
  • Post on social media or advertise with a local news outlet to share that the item was found

The daydream of finding a bag full of cash might not be such a fantasy if the court finds you guilty of theft by finding. Maybe it is time to update the classic children's rhyme; instead, it should say "finders are not necessary keepers."

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