Sally Herigstad is a certified public accountant and the author of "Help! I Can't Pay My Bills: Surviving a Financial Crisis" (St. Martin's Press, 2006). She writes "To Her Credit," a weekly reader Q&A column about issues involving women, credit and debt, for CreditCards.com, and also writes regularly for MSN Money, Interest.com and Bankrate.com, and has guested on Martha Stewart Radio and other programs. See her website SallyHerigstad.com for more personal finance tips and free budgeting worksheets. Ask Sally a question, or read her previous answers in the To Her Credit archive
Dear To Her Credit,
My husband and I found a debit card on the sidewalk outside a downtown restaurant. We picked it up so no one with worse intentions could get it. But now we're not sure what to do! Should we find the owner? Take it to the bank? Should we have just let it lie? -- Shirley
There's no consensus of experts about this conundrum, I'm afraid.
On the one side are those who recommend you avoid as much risk as possible. They say to never pick up wallets, cash or debit cards from the sidewalk.
The dangers of getting involved are real. Robert Siciliano, CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com and author of "The Safety Minute: Living on High Alert," says, "If you try to find the person and give the card to another person of the same name that can be a problem for them. If the card was stolen, then your involvement in it then becomes suspect." Worse, Siciliano says the card may belong to a less than stable person.
Another risk to picking up anything valuable from a sidewalk is that it could be the famous "turkey drop" in which a wallet or wad of cash is placed on the sidewalk. When someone picks it up to examine it, a con man appears who accuses the passerby of theft and demands a cash bribe or he will call the police. Daniel Storm of Second Chance Publications says, "Leave it be. You're probably on a spycam and it's a setup. We learned the Chicago style of such happenings. If it ain't your business, don't make it your business."
On the other side are those who are willing to take a small amount of risk, hoping to help another person (who may this very moment be turning pockets inside out in a panic and dumping out the contents of her purse, trying to find that card). If you're not in a foreign country or alone on a dark street and really want to help, then picking up the card may be the right thing to do.
Once you've decided to be a Good Samaritan and rescued the card from the sidewalk and its potential misuse by miscreants, you should destroy it. A debit card is not a wedding ring or wad of cash that's worth spending a lot of time trying to find its owner. (It may even be canceled by now if it's been discovered missing.) It doesn't hurt to call the number on the back of the card to notify the bank that the card has been found. Chances are, the bank will thank you for calling and tell you to destroy the card. They'll add a note to the account that the card has been compromised and reported found.
If you would rather try to find the owner, be careful. If the card owner has an unusual name and you can find his or her phone number or send a Facebook message, fine. If you find 20 people with the same name, think twice. As Siciliano warns, you don't want to give the card to the wrong John Smith. Nor should you spend your evening calling strangers, some of whom will think you're a kook.
If someone says, "Yes, that's my card," and can identify it, volunteer to mail it to them. Or if they are close by, meet them in a secure public place, such as a bank lobby. Use common sense.
No one should feel guilty if they see something on the sidewalk and just keep walking without getting involved. That said, if I ever lose my debit card, I hope someone like you finds it. There are far more good people in the world than bad. It pays for us all to look out for each other when we can.
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