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Are Lost Wallets Often Returned?

You're walking down the street and you find a wallet with a $100 bill in it: What do you do? As surprising as it might sound, most people would turn it in. In a worldwide research effort spearheaded by a group from the University of Michigan, 17,000 wallets were "lost" in 40 countries over the course of two years. Some had the equivalent of $13 USD in them, along with an assortment of business cards and such, and some had no money. Universally, the wallets with the cash were turned in more often than those without.

Finding their results hard to register, the team dropped another batch of wallets in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland -- only this time, the money-loaded wallets held $100 rather than $13. The results were startling: 72 percent of the money wallets were returned, compared with 46 percent of those without the cash. Speculating on what was going on, the team came up with two main theories. First, it could be altruism at work; that is, people are decent at heart and want to do the right thing. The other possibility? People don't want to see themselves as thieves. It's one thing not to turn in an empty wallet, but what does it say about you if you keep one with $100 in it?

Show me the money:

  • American paper money is green because green has the qualities of being resistant to flaking, fading, and discoloration.
  • Two-thirds of all of the $100 U.S. banknotes ever printed can't be accounted for; they are believed to be overseas.
  • Paper money is considered to be dirtier than a typical toilet and can hold the flu virus for more than two weeks.
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