Dumped $30,000 safe sparks 'finders keepers' debate

Safe deposit box
Safe deposit box. Photo credit: Getty.

The old adage of "finders keepers, losers weepers" sounds great in theory, but the reality may be quite different.

The moral code of Waste Management employees was severely tested last week, when one Auckland resident tossed a safe containing up to $30,000 into an inorganic collection in the suburb of Hillsborough.

If you find it, do you keep it or do you hand it in?

In this case, the collectors were bound by company policy and wisely chose the latter. Otahuhu Police reportedly received the cash on March 7 and the rightful owners are being located.

"Waste Management has strict policies that govern the inorganic collection service and we are following our normal investigation process," national manager Monica Cadman told NZME.

But the decision becomes more difficult if you're a member of the public walking down the street and stumbling on this windfall.

And the rules change, depending on the amount found.

"This is quite a difficult area, to be honest," admits Massey University law professor Chris Gallivan. "It's not strictly theft.

"It's a little bit like when a bank makes a transaction error and puts the decimal point in the wrong place, and suddenly millions of dollars turn up in your account.

"You know it's not yours and I don't think anyone can be under any illusion that it's anything but an accident. You need to take reasonable steps to find the rightful owner."

"But if it's just $5, there's a different test of reasonableness than if it's $30,000."

If you decide to keep it, Prof Gallivan warns you could be charged with "dishonesty offences" - but again, the reality might be quite different.

"I don't think anyone would be charged," he said. "If it came to the attention of police, they might simply approach you and arrange for its return."

But is it worth that risk?