The common law rule is that if you find something of value and you take all reasonable steps to find the owner but fail, then you may be able to keep the goods. There are various adaptations of this rule, depending on state-to-state legislation, but the principal remains the same.
You must report your find to the authorities (usually the police) who then search for the owner. In some jurisdictions there is a legal obligation to report the find and deliver the goods to the authorities for safe-keeping. After a prescribed period of time, if the owner cannot be traced, the goods are returned to the finder who may keep them.
Recently a Sydney bank clerk claimed that he found $250,000 lying in the street. He did not report the find, but a work mate, who noticed some of the money in a bag under the clerk’s work-desk, did. He rang the police. The police took the money in the bag and subsequently found the balance of the $250,000 in a safe custody box at a different bank. The bank which employs the clerk has no money missing. The clerk was charged with larceny (stealing) by finding and faces a large fine or up to 5 years in gaol.
The money remains unclaimed. Who gets it? Had the clerk reported the find to the police, it would be his. As he has been charged with a crime over the money, then it may be forfeited to the Crown as proceeds of crime.
For further information contact us.