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Theft by finding: an examination of Florida law

You’re walking down the beach at sunset, when all of the sudden you feel foot kick something hard. You look down and notice a pair of Rat-Ban sunglasses in pristine condition. You look around and, seeing no one to claim them, take them for yourself. Lucky you!

Unfortunately, in Florida, the rules of “finders keepers” don’t apply. Theft by finding is actually a crime.

The law

Florida law states that if find lost or abandoned property and take it for yourself, you could face criminal charges, fines and jail time:

  • If you take a low-value item (worth less than $300), you could face a petit theft charge—the penalty for which is 6–12 months in jail and $500–$1,000 in fines.
  • If you find and take a higher value item, this is considered grand theft. The punishment for this crime is up to five years in jail and as much as $5,000 in fines.

Reporting found items

If you find an item of value in a public space, you should turn it in to the police. The police will then take steps to track down its rightful owner. In South Florida, law enforcement agencies commonly post found items on propertyroom.com.

The cost of doing the right thing

Being a good Samaritan comes at a price, however. If you turn over a found item, you must pay for the police department’s costs of advertising and storing it. While this represents a financial inconvenience up front, it is only temporary. If the true owner claims the items within 90 days, they must pay you back for your expenses. If the true owner does not come forward within this timeframe, you may keep the found item yourself.

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