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Can I use a card that I found on the floor?

It's not 'finders, keepers.' Using a stranger's card is immoral, possibly criminal

By

Opening Credits
Columnist Erica Sandberg
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of "Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families." She writes "Opening Credits," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues for people who are new to credit, for CreditCards.com.

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Question Dear Opening Credits,
If you find a card that is not yours on the floor, and you use it, is that fraud? – Bridget

 

Answer

Dear Samantha,
You didn’t specify what kind of card was found on the floor, but using any card – gift card, card, debit card or credit card – that isn’t yours is wrong. “Finders, keepers” doesn’t apply with cards. 

Yes, a found gift card can seem almost like free money, just like spotting a seemingly abandoned $20 bill, but you still should try to return the gift card to the rightful owner. Reach out to the retailer or post a notice on an online community board, such as Craigslist or NextDoor, to try to reconnect the gift card to its owner. (In some states, such as Minnesota, a citizen is even required by law to return lost property.) 

With a found debit or credit card, the stakes are much higher. Trying to use a stranger’s credit or debit card is illegal and immoral. 

First, let’s look at legal issues. I spoke with Maury Beaulier, a criminal defense attorney who practices in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, to get the scoop about just how much trouble you could get in if you were to pay for something with another person’s credit or debit card. 

“The statute states specifically that if you use the card without permission it’s a criminal offense,” says Beaulier. “Consequences become more severe the larger the amount you spend.”  

In general, if you steal more than $950 you’re looking at a felony. If convicted, you could face extreme penalties and fines, plus jail time of more than a year. 

Steal less than $950 (the amount varies by state law), and it may be a misdemeanor. Though the fines may not be as high, you could still spend time behind bars if the judge finds your theft particularly reprehensible. Beaulier also warns that it would be a federal offense if you used the card in a different state. 

Does this mean you’ll be discovered and convicted, then hit with all the penalties associated with the crime? Not necessarily. Plenty of crooks get away with identity theft and fraud, but it’s not worth the risk. 

Still, if possibly being judged to be a criminal isn’t enough reason for you to not use the card you found on the floor, maybe the fact that using the card as if it’s yours is immoral will sway you. 

Of course there is some gray area when it comes to the ethics of thievery. For example, taking a loaf of bread from a store shelf to feed your starving family may be a moral action, even if it is, technically, stealing. But what you appear to describe is a crime of opportunity: See card, take card, use card. I don’t get the sense that you’re in desperate need of unaffordable sustenance or medication and see this card as the only way to save a life. 

Therefore, charging with another person’s personal credit card is not only fraud, it’s immoral. Taking what isn’t yours is a fundamental kindergarten lesson. 

So what should you do with that found card? Call the toll-free number on the back and report it as lost.

Think of the account owner. As one of the millions of Americans who have had their accounts compromised by an unknown thief, I can tell you that it is a terrible feeling, with lasting emotional and credit history impact. Card theft victims tend to be scared and angry. They wonder how much information the thief has, and if it’s a one-time hit or if they'll have to deal with the damage for months or even years. 

Don’t use the card, Samantha.

See related: What do do when you find a lost credit card

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Published: November 30, 2016


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Updated: 12-03-2016


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