Reversal of Fortune

May 7th, 2010 by Kathy McManus

Two people found $100,000 in a suitcase — and were arrested for not returning it.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

An Australian newspaper recently asked readers what they would do if they found $100,000. Keep the money, or return it?

Far from hypothetical, the question was based on the current case of two Melbourne bargain-hunters who paid $15 for a cast-off suitcase at a Salvation Army thrift store, and later discovered $100,000 sewn in the lining. The suitcase had been donated by a woman who was unaware her husband had used the case to stash cash. The distraught woman contacted the thrift store, but the buyers were long gone.

Enter the police. Tracing the debit card used in the transaction, they found that the buyers — described in Australian press reports as a 43-year-old man and a 34-year-old woman — had deposited the money “into different bank accounts.” Police then charged the two with “theft by finding,” a criminal statute, according to the Herald Sun newspaper, used when people “find something of value, know it belongs to someone else, but decide to keep it anyway.”

More than half the readers who responded to the Sun’s poll, however, said they would not have returned the $100,000. “I probably would have kept it,” one man wrote. “I think it’s just like winning the lottery.”

Under similar circumstances, would you have returned the money?