If you happen to find a gift card somewhere, it may feel as though you’ve struck gold. But when it comes to a gift card, the rule of finders – keepers doesn’t necessarily apply. The reality is that many states require that you attempt to return lost property. In some jurisdictions, law enforcement may charge you with theft for using a gift card that belongs to someone else.
I Found a Gift Card With Money On It – What Should I Do?
No matter what state you are in, it’s not a good idea to use a gift card that you’ve found. Many states require that you attempt to return lost property. In fact, this also applies to lost money. But because cash is largely untraceable, most people simply keep any cash they find.
With gift cards, that is not the case. Many gift cards are registered to a specific person. And even in the cases where they are not, gift cards are typically purchased through electronic transactions. That means that it’s often possible for a retailer to track the person who originally bought the gift card. Because of the potential for returning the card to its rightful owner, the best course of action is to contact the retailer and see if they can help you locate the owner. If that doesn’t work, it may be possible to reconnect the gift card with its owner through Craiglist or some other community board.
Returning the card isn’t just the right thing to do; using a card that doesn’t belong to you could land you in hot water. If the rightful owner of the card has reported it stolen, law enforcement may be waiting for someone to use the card. In states like Arizona, cash and items with inherent value like gift cards are always treated as mislaid, not lost, property. Under Arizona law, it is a crime to appropriate the mislaid property of another. Consider the state’s theft statute:
13-1802. Theft; classification; definitions
A. A person commits theft if, without lawful authority, the person knowingly:
4. Comes into control of lost, mislaid or misdelivered property of another under circumstances providing means of inquiry as to the true owner and appropriates such property to the person’s own or another’s use without reasonable efforts to notify the true owner; or
5. Theft of any property or services valued at less than one thousand dollars is a class 1 misdemeanor, unless the property is taken from the person of another, is a firearm or is an animal taken for the purpose of animal fighting in violation of section 13-2910.01, in which case the theft is a class 6 felony.
You could also face civil liability in addition to any criminal charges. The gift card remains the property of the person who mislaid it, even if it is no longer in their possession. If you find the card and use it, you are essentially converting an asset of the original owners for your own benefit. While it seems unlikely, the original owner could sue you for conversion in civil court and seek to recover the value on the card that you spent.