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A Curious Coffee Card Conundrum

Updated on February 21, 2013
Drop something?
Drop something?

Finders Keepers?

Yesterday afternoon I found a Starbucks gift card on the sidewalk not too far from a Starbucks store. My lucky day? The card looked used and was possibly dropped by a customer leaving the store in a hurry. I walked into the coffee shop but it was crowed with no available seating so I left after only a minute. I had not really decided what to do with the card at that point.

Not giving it much thought, I finished my errands and left the area. Later that evening I went to another Starbucks closer to home. This one was my regular hang-out. The barista knows me by name and even knows my regular drink and starts making it even before I speak. I pulled out the found card and clearly told him that I had found the card that day. I asked him to check to see if it was registered and to see if it had a balance. He ran the card and told me that it was registered and had a balance of over $30! Not sure of the policy, I asked him if I could use a found card if it was not registered. He said no and that it would be considered theft. He kept the card so I pulled out my old gift card (given to me by my sister for Christmas). I paid the $2.45 for my regular Americano with whipped cream and sat down.

The exchange which had just occurred got me thinking. What was the moral obligation here? Perhaps I should have turned in the card to the barista at the Starbucks which was close to where I found it. They could have run the card, read the registered name, and possibly returned it to the owner. But let's say they ran the card and it was not registered? Would they have returned it to me or kept it? Let's say I didn't tell them it was found, it was not registered, and I simply used it to make a purchase. How would they know it was not mine? Let's say it was registered, but I didn't tell them I found it. Would they know I was not the registered owner and question me? If I find a card which is not registered and is not traceable, am I allowed to keep it. Isn't that a bit like finding a quarter and just keeping it?

The problem with finding cash is that it is usually impossible to locate the person who lost it. If I find a $20 in the parking lot and blindly ask ten strangers if they lost a $20, how many would say no? What do they have to lose if they say yes? If someone says yes, how do I know they are telling the truth? What if more than one person claims the $20? It's seems like the understood protocol is that you can keep any petty cash you find on the street if no one has obviously just dropped it. But what is the upper limit for that? Obviously if you found a suitcase abandoned and it was stuffed full of hundred dollar bills than you'd have more than just a lost nickel. I think there would be a moral (and probably legal) obligation to turn the loot in to the authorities. Maybe it was cash being used in a drug deal or maybe it was stolen cash. But pocket change is ok.

I would consider an unregistered gift card to be like dropped change. If no one obviously just dropped it and there is no way to easily locate the owner (because it's a bit like trying to find the owner of an unmarked $20), then the "finder's keeper's" rule should prevail.


What would you do?

If you found an obviously lost gift card and it was unregistered what would you do?

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