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An ethical dilemma and a poll

Okay, let’s just say, hypothetically of course, that your latest hobby resulted in you plunging headlong into a thick tangle of brambles alongside the Rideau Canal, and while you were in there you found a credit card and a lottery ticket. You took them home, looked up the name on the credit card and got the woman’s phone number. Then, just for fun, you looked up the lottery ticket and discovered that it was worth $2,218.30.

Oh dear. What would you do? Remember, the question is not what should you do, but what would you do.

(Those of you who are reading this from a feed reader or email will need to click on over here in order to vote.)

Just out of curiosity, would your answer change if the ticket were worth four million dollars?

If you like this sort of thing, XUP has a whole series of etiquette dilemmas for you to weigh in on. Etiquette dilemmas are the second cousin of ethical dilemmas.

29 comments to An ethical dilemma and a poll

  • XUP

    Shut UP! Did this happen to you? Gives a whole new meaning to the term “windfall”. Were the credit card and lottery ticket obviously attached/obviously belonging to the same person? And obviously no one had signed the ticket? If so, I would call her to return the credit card and offer to split the lottery winnings with her 50/50. That seems fair. So I’ll vote “other” on the poll.

  • I’d return the ticket. If I didn’t, I’d be totally eaten up by the guilt and wouldn’t be able to enjoy the money, anyway. I know that sounds Pollyanna, but I don’t deal with guilt well.

  • $4 million? I’d still return the ticket, but negotiate furiously for a share of the money. And I do mean furiously.

  • Gramps

    I would return the 2k ticket but 4 million ? I doubt that I am that ethical

  • Bonnie

    no question I would return the ticket regardless the value. Actually I would not even check if it was a winning ticket in the first place so as not to tempt myself.

  • sassy

    Good thinking Dawg.

    Somewhat like Bonnie, I would not even bother to check the ticket (it simply would not occur to me) and of course I would return the ticket and whatever else.

    A few years ago I have a funny (as in head shaking sort of funny) experince. While walking my dog (rather late at night) I found a briefcase. I looked through it until I found some ID and the next morning I attempted to phone the owner. The outgoing message on the answering machine was

    “sorry I can’t take your call right now, I am away from (dates for a two week period where given) in (insert name of fall away city)”. I left a message which was later returned by someone who had been coming into the vacant house to check it a few times a week and, I was able to return the briefcase, which I was told later, had cash in it (not millions but a substantial sum).

  • If the ticket was obviously attached to the credit card (e.g. paper clipped), then I would return it (and hope for a reward!) If the ticket was obviously separate from the credit card, I would keep it. If attachment is not obvious, I would ask the credit card owner if anything else had been stolen with the card, then play it by ear. And it would not matter how much the ticket was worth. But then, I am not in need of money; my answers might be different if I were unemployed and/or in need.

  • Max R.

    Well, I’m sorry to say it, but I once had a police officer intentionally throw my ticket into the wind, and it could have been worth millions, so I would not only keep the ticket and enjoy the money guilt-free, but consider it a closing of a karmic circle :). That’s sort of a unique situation though, I generally enjoy found money guilt-free. I would return the credit card though, obviously.

  • I’d probably return the ticket (that’s what I voted), because I do believe that what goes around comes around and I would hope that someone would do the same for me.

    If it were four million, oh man, I don’t know. I don’t think I would have such a balanced view.

    And anyway, don’t they have signatures on tickets now to prevent people who did not buy tickets from cashing them?

  • megabytes

    Return the ticket and trust in the grateful recipient to pay back the good karma, either to me or someone else somewhere. How much do you want to bet the balance on the credit card cancels out the winnings from the lottery?

    But on the flip side, my son found a USB stick in the park last year. On it were classified documents about defense equipment contracts (not encrypted!!!). We phoned the number on the stick and this grumpy guy showed up to claim it. He didn’t say thanks or offer a reward, just asked if we’d copied it or called the media. Made me lose faith in people a bit – I wonder how things have turned out for him since then…

  • jenny

    If only there had been no way to track the owner… I suppose I would really have to give everything back– especially the credit card. I’d be bummed about the lotto ticket though. I’d hope for a share of the ticket, but if I didn’t get anything I suppose I’d have to deal with that, too. After all, if I chose to give it back, it wouldn’t be up to me!

  • Julia

    Very interesting dilemma. Of course, you return the ticket because, after all it is not yours. However, as people above have pointed out, if she didn’t sign it before she lost it, how do we know it is hers? I think some haggling is in order. If she always buys the same numbers and can tell you what’s on the ticket, then fine. But if it is a quick pick then I might try what someone else suggested and see if she claims that she lost a ticket in addition to the credit card. If she doesn’t mention the ticket, maybe it isn’t hers. Then you have the choice of asking and then prompting her to agree to split whatEVER the winnings might be.

    I am afraid the pickle started when whoever looked up the ticket and discovered it was a winner. That’s why I always buy the Encore (stupid thing) because they print it anyway. If I don’t buy it and it hits, then I will have to kill myself because I threw away a million bucks. Or something like that.

  • I picked “return the ticket” before I read XUP’s comment about there being no reason to believe that the ticket and card belong to the same person. Hmmmmm.

    I still think I would hand it over though. For one, although everyone could always use a little extra,it is not like we are starving or don’t have a roof over our head. Even if it were worth millions — I’m happy with our life as it is. No temptation!

  • If I had such an ethical dilemma, I certainly would not write about it on a prominent blog. It could be awfully easy for whoever lost and recovered their wallet to piece things together via Google.

  • Knittingshelley

    I would ask if the person had also lost a lottery ticket as well as their credit card. If they said yes, I would give it to them. But I have to agree that I probably wouldn’t think to check the ticket to see if it was a winner.

  • Carmen

    Nothing says that the ticket belongs to the credit card owner. Actually, it probably doesn’t because you are to leave one thing (now, why would a person leave a credit card, yikes…or perhaps she lost it?)….

  • Dear people who have winning lottery tickets returned to them: you should share it with the honest returner.

    That is all.

  • Convivialiddell

    I’d keep it. I’d return the credit card, but keep the money on the lottery ticket. I’d like to think that I’d be a great person and give it back, but I really wouldn’t. Over 2K is a really great sum of money and, well, student loans don’t pay for themselves. =P

    Oddly enough, I’d have more qualms if it was 4 million. Granted there is no guarantee that the lottery ticket AND the card belong to the same person, they’re just next to each other. But. Assuming that they were, I’d probably send them some money after cashing in. 4 million is a lot. I don’t think I really need all of the 4 million. =P

  • Megan

    they probably cancelled the card already. i know i would have If I didnt know where mine was for an extended amount of time (i once put mine in the drop box in a library book.

    As for the ticket. I would say do halvsies on it. Cash it in. Keep half and return the rest. I would have just rotted into the ground if you hadnt found it.

  • I voted “return the ticket,” but I didn’t consider that perhaps the ticket does not belong to the card holder. I’d call the card holder and tell her I’d found her card. If she asked me if I had found a lottery ticket with it, I’d tell her the truth, yes. . . then . . . let the conversation evolve . . .

  • For $2000 I’d return the ticket. For $4 million, not so much. My ethics, apparently, have a price.

  • I’m not sure if it’s not actually illegal to take someone else’s ticket. I think there was recently a case where the person couldn’t produce to receipt for the purchase of the ticket and was arrested because the person who did have the receipt came forward. I’d be too afraid of being caught. In any case, I’d inform the lottery people that I found the ticket and that it may or may not be said card holder’s. Let them deal with it. They’ll decide what’s right since they know all about proof of purchase and the finder law.

    I couldn’t keep it because the person who bought the ticket might be someone like me would could really use that money and be terribly upset to find out they lost it. I wouldn’t want that to happen to me, so I wouldn’t do it to someone else.

  • I would return the ticket. It would be nice to have the money, but coming into lots of money like that tends to change people. I am not ready for more complications yet.

  • I’m a firm believer in karma, so back the ticket goes. I probably wouldn’t have checked to see if it was a winning one in the first place as it wasn’t mine.

    I have found credit cards and a whole wallet full of stuff that we mailed back to the owner. She gave us a grocery store gift card (which was much appreciated at the time).

  • Okay, here’s what happened. I found the credit card and lottery ticket, and while they weren’t physically attached, it seemed extremely likely that they belonged to the same person. They were nestled together in dense shrubbery. I took them home and forgot about them until 4:00 the following morning. Then I woke up and thought for a very long time about what I would do if the ticket were a winner. As with some (but definitely not most) of you, my answer became more difficult as the hypothetical value of the ticket increased. There was a point at which I wavered, and one at which I caved.

    First thing in the morning, I checked the ticket. It was worth exactly $0. Not even a free ticket. The only thing I could get out of it was a free blog post.

  • Noam Deguerre

    lotteries got big when rome fell, too; would from the petrified forest: what ‘could’ we do? once, running cash w martin at blahsfest, i returned a sizeable wad – returning from the baltic ave colonies, after watching skinny little babies die of flu, diarrhea etc (/undernourishment) while i get fat from the windfalls of caesar’s campaigns, today i might just question the luck of the draw; btw if my (equally hypothetical!) kid found something like that, i wouldn’t tell them where i live – in this competitive marketplace, they’ll have a surplus of that stuff anyway

  • Lucy

    Were the credit card and ticket without a doubt together? If they were, I suppose I’d give the ticket back. If they weren’t, I’d call up the person and ask if they lost anything else with the card. If they say lottery ticket, then its theirs. If they only lost the card, then the ticket is yours, I suppose.

  • Argh. How I hate being an honest person. And no, I don’t think $4million would change my actions. I couldn’t live with myself. I’d think about it, though. A lot.

  • Gwyndolyn O'Shaughnessy

    I “returned” some once to a guy sitting near where I picked it up from the floor. He accepted it, then looked at his friends, laughed and shrugged (like it wasn’t his, any more than it was mine). I was 13 at the time; it kind of changed my world view, and made me think about what to do with found cash.

    My solution was to keep some, and give the rest to charity. I must confess: if i’m low on money for the month, more of it stays with me.

    Lotto ticket … I don’t know. If the two items were obviously from an identifiable owner, I would … probably not look up the value before giving it all back. If the ticket was anonymous, i’d keep maybe half and give the rest to charity: family planning/contraception, wilderness or gamblers’ anonymous. :-)