I Found $100 in a Cab. Was It O.K. to Keep It?


The Ethicist

CreditCreditIllustration by Tomi Um

Last night, I flagged down a yellow cab. When I opened the door, there were five $20 bills lying on the seat. Since there was no way of tracking down the person who left the money — and I figured the cabdriver would just keep the money for himself if I told him about it — I decided to keep it and donate half to charity. Was that the right thing to do?Name Withheld, New York

The cabdriver wasin the same situation as you were: Most likely there was little he could do to get the money to its rightful owner. He could have called the city’s 311 line, or left the money and the information at a police precinct. But few taxi drivers would have the time and inclination to do any of this. And I don’t blame them. They can’t be obliged to expend serious effort to undo someone else’s negligence.

Still, people who leave things in a taxi in New York City can contact the driver by using the Taxi Lookup tool of the Taxi and Limousine Commission and entering the taxi’s license number, which is on the receipt. So if a) you had entrusted the cash to the cabdriver, and b) the previous passenger realized that the money had been left in that cab, and c) knew about the license lookup tool, and d) contacted the driver, the money could have been returned to its owner.

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