Thursday, October 30, 2014

If you found a large sum of money in a secluded spot, would you keep it or hand it in to the police?

If you found a large sum of money in a secluded spot, would you keep it or hand it in to the police?

Best comment:

Contrary to what many people here seem to think, drug dealers don't go around leaving money in secluded areas.

I'd like to believe I'd turn the money into the police.  And that by doing so I wouldn't be accused of having stolen it in the first place.  But the question doesn't include enough information for us to make a definitive answer. 

What does the asker mean by "secluded spot?"  Many people in the comments thread think it's someplace out in the countryside, in a field or forest or next to a rock by some river.  Far from houses and office buildings.  What is the chain of events that would cause some forgetful or clumsy person to carry a tempting amount of money to some obscure, largely hidden location that is also accessible enough for them and then you to find it?  Maybe it's because my mind works this way, but barring the flight of a second D.B. Cooper, the only narratives producing this result I can conceive of are absurd and unlikely.

And what constitutes a "large sum of money?"  The equivalent of 1000 USD?  10,000?  100,000?  Who goes on a hike carrying that kind of money?  That the money might be drug-related or loot from a robbery and so stealing it from a rock near a river as a victimless crime seems to be the top justification for keeping it.  But as this Strangerland person suggests, this isn't the usual way drug deals happen.  I know Steve Buscemi buried close to a million dollars in ransom money in the snow and Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton found a fortune in a crashed airplane, but I also know those were movies.  Your real-world criminals tend to keep money close and launder it or stash it in a safer place than under some rock they have to drive and hike to whenever they need a little spending cash.  The only thing you're likely to find next to a rock is another rock.  Do you keep the rock or hand it in to the police?

Therefore, I suspect this entire scenario and the moral question it pretends to pose are actually an exercise in childish wish fulfillment where keeping the money is somehow justified because we just saw the new Playstation 4 and our moms told us we couldn't have it because it's too expensive and saving our allowances would take years, by which time there would probably be Playstation 12 and we'd be so old we could no longer make our arthritic fingers press controller buttons fast enough to make the characters dance or shoot.  This isn't real imaginary money, it's a magical imaginary treasure some good kids can find after a long adventure involving a witch, two ogres and a dysfunctional family of giants.  They take it home to their poor, hardworking mother and she buys a cow and a pig and some chickens with it and everyone lives happily ever after.  Also, no school.

However, if I found a wallet on the sidewalk, I'd take it to the police immediately.  If I saw someone leaving an ATM machine without taking the money he or she withdrew, I'd shout, "Sumimasen!" or some similar attention grabber.  If no one were around, I'd leave the cash where it is and split without even completing my own transaction and find an ATM free of moral quandaries and sticky situations where communicating with suspicious authorities while foreign aren't in play.  Or if my wife were with me, maybe we'd call the police and tell them about what we found. 

But what about a wad of cash in an old futon with no way to determine who owned it?  Although even in that case it's pretty unlikely I'd ever touch some moldy old futon much less tear it open to look inside at the stuffing.  Hey, what if you found money in the wall of your house years after the previous owner died?  Why are you tearing down a wall in your house instead of calling a professional?  What about a 500 yen coin lying in the street?  You have sharp eyes.  Almost as sharp as my father's and mine the time we were driving to Albany from Athens and just about to get onto the interstate.  We both spotted a bill lying in a pile of trash on the side of the on-ramp.  Dad immediately stopped and let me out.  Turned out to be a single when we were hoping for at least a twenty.  We kept it.

I don't want to wax poetically about how honest people tend to be here in Japan.  A top swimmer couldn't keep his hands to himself when confronted by a really nice camera recently and I have friends who have lost brand new bikes to thieves on consecutive days (and someone once stole my wife's wallet and she has NEVER forgotten that).  But I did have a small plastic case containing my ATM, credit and gaikokujin cards returned to me after it fell out of my pants pocket on the street somewhere between home and work.  The cops insisted I call the person who returned it and thank him, which I happily did.  Now I feel bad I didn't offer to buy the guy dinner or something.  And I've read or heard stories about people forgetting their bags on trains and getting them back from the station staff or simply hopping back on the same train later that day or the next and finding their stuff in the same place, untouched. 

Generally speaking, your things are safer here than, say, in my home town back in Georgia.  Just don't think you can go around putting money under rocks or leaving it lying around in fields or next to ATM machines and it's as safe there as it would be in a bank.

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