| June 7, 2016

Last updated: July 29, 2016

Civic Skills, Manly Skills

What to Do When You Find a Wallet On the Ground

man picking wallet up off ground black white photo

The other day I was running some errands, and stopped by a coffee shop to grab a cup of joe on my way home. As I walked out the door and to my car, I noticed a big fat wallet lying on the ground just off the curb. I picked it up, gave a quick look around to see if there was anyone nearby who might have dropped it (there wasn’t), and then pondered what to do next.

Should I bring it to a nearby business? There were quite a few around, so it could have been dropped by a patron of any of them, and could I really trust another random person to handle the wallet? Should I rifle through it to try and find some contact information on the owner? Should I return it a police station?

My questions were many, so I ended up talking with some other folks about what they’ve done in this situation, and also called my local Arvada, CO police station to get their advice on the matter.

While I eventually found the wallet’s owner (details of that later), I figured that if I wondered what to do in this scenario, other people do too. So below I share some quick tips on what I learned you should do when you find someone else’s wallet (or other valuables) and want to be a good citizen and return them.

DON’T Return the Item to a Local Business

This was something the Arvada city PIO (Public Information Officer) was adamant about when I spoke to her. Many folks, when they find something of value — especially outside a business area (or even in a business) — return it to the nearest establishment. The intent is good — the finder assumes that the person will come back through and ask around for lost items. The problem is that you’re ultimately just returning the valuables to another stranger. Just because someone is donning a work uniform behind a counter doesn’t mean they’re trustworthy.

If anything, go to an employee and leave your name and number with a note saying that you have the item and can be contacted for its safe return.

Try to Find Their Contact Information

This was my first course of action when I found the aforementioned wallet on the ground. I searched around through various scraps of paper and business cards, and eventually found a card with a name that matched the driver’s license. I felt a little strange rifling through someone’s personal items, but I guessed that the owner wouldn’t mind when he got his wallet back (I guessed right, I learned when I found him).

So I called the phone number on the business card, told the man I had found his wallet, and he nearly cried with relief. We arranged a pick-up location a few minutes down the road from me, and got the matter taken care of. The gentleman was so happy that he offered to fill up my gas tank, and insisted on my address to send me a card.

Another option here, especially if you find a business card, is to drop it off at the person’s place of work. That’s certainly a more trusted option than leaving it with a random local business.

Personally tracking someone down via their contact information is a little more involved and intimate than the other methods I’ll mention; you have to decide what you have time for, and what you’re comfortable with. Ultimately, I met a strange man at a gas station. I was comfortable with it, but some people may not be, and that’s okay.

There’s also a risk with this method that the person could accuse you of having taken something, especially if something was stolen before you found it. You certainly shouldn’t feel guilty for pursuing the other options listed here.

Should I Mail It?

Present in most people’s wallets is a driver’s license with a clearly printed address. With this info, you could just drop it in the mail and get it back to the person without ever having to meet. If you don’t want that cost, you can also drop wallets (but not other valuables) off at the post office, and they’ll take care of it at no charge.

While a reasonable option, I wouldn’t recommend it for the simple fact that it delays the return of the wallet by as many as a few days. If I had lost a billfold, I’d be canceling cards and working on replacing items that night if I hadn’t heard anything about its whereabouts. While I’d certainly be happy about its return a couple days later, I would have already put wheels in motion to replace the things in it.

The mail just also isn’t as safe of a delivery method as the others. It could be sitting in a mailbox overnight, or even for a few days if someone is away by chance.

That’s my two cents; it’s certainly a fine option if none of the others are viable.

Search for Them Online

A quick Google search, or perhaps even better, a Facebook search, may yield results in finding someone who’s lost their valuables. If you find the person and are able to successfully communicate through Facebook or email, you can arrange a pick-up location or make some other arrangement.

If the person has a common name, or your search doesn’t return any good information, you can utilize local Facebook groups as well. The city of Arvada has a few Craigslist-type groups for locals; while they are primarily about selling and trading various items, every once in a while you see someone post that they’ve found a valuable and are searching for its owner, and more often than not, it seems like a friend of a friend chimes in with a comment and the item(s) gets returned.

As with the above, this is a more personal approach, and you may not be comfortable with it.

Call/Contact Their Bank or Credit Card Company

Another option, particularly if you find a wallet, is to contact one of their banking companies based on any cards that you find. If you return the wallet to a bank branch of one of their cards, they’ll contact the person, who can then come pick it up. This is definitely a safe option on all fronts: their valuables are surely safe at a bank, and you’re safe because you’re not meeting a stranger somewhere.

Return It to the Nearest Police Station

Possibly your best course of action, without even having to rifle through the person’s wallet, is to just return it to a nearby police station. There, it will be kept safe in an evidence room, and the police will make every effort to find the person, pulling up any records they have and even using social media. If they can’t find the owner by any means after a certain amount of time — 90 days in the case of my local department — it then gets destroyed.

This option is especially beneficial if you find valuables that don’t have any identifying information. The PIO I spoke with said they get found valuables returned to them all the time — from jewelry, to phones, and even photo albums. No matter what type of valuable you find, the local PD can take care of it and your own effort is minimal.

Which Course of Action Should You Pursue?

The options listed above are all good courses of action if you find a wallet or valuables. Is there a best option, though? One that should be pursued above the rest?

As noted, definitely don’t return it to a local business. Also, don’t let your first act be dropping it in the mail for the reasons listed above.

Beyond that, it comes down to what you’re comfortable with, and frankly, what you have time for. If you’re flexible and don’t mind meeting strangers, looking for the person’s contact info and trying to return it in person is rather satisfying. It’s typically the fastest method of getting the wallet back in their hands as well, which the owner will surely appreciate. You may also get some sort of reward, and while not the point, of course, this is still nice!

If you can’t find contact information, if you’re short on time, or if you just aren’t comfortable with a face-to-face meeting, returning the wallet to a bank or police station is perfectly safe and honorable, and there’s as good a chance as any that the correct person will be found.

Whatever method you choose, at least do something! When you find something valuable on the ground — be it a wallet or a piece of jewelry — don’t just leave it there for someone else to deal with. Do the right thing: pick it up, and make a reasonable effort to get it returned. You know that you’d hope for someone to do the same if you lost something.

And now, you know exactly what to do when and if the day comes you spy a nice fat wallet staring up at you from the ground.