While walking on the beach you stumble on a valuable object buried in the sand — say, a piece of jewelry or an envelope full of cash. What do you do with it? Under what circumstances would you keep it?
No, I wouldn’t keep it. If it was a dollar or five dollar bill, I’d stick it in my pocket, but “valuable” means it has more worth than that, and may well be very important to someone.
First, if there was anyone “official” at the beach, even a lifeguard, I[d ask them if anyone had reported losing something; same for someone at the snack bar. Then I’d call the authority who runs the beach — for instance in Ocean City the Beach Patrol has a central office. There’s also the Office of Tourism, and, of course, I could call the police who might have been contacted if the item was particularly valuable. I suspect that if I found something of great value, like a diamond bracelet, I might prefer to leave it with the police (getting a receipt) and let them take responsibility for it. It may take a little detective work depending on where you are to find out whom to call.
Using popular technology, I might place an ad on http://www.craigslist.com in “Lost and Found”. If someone contacted me, I would want to be sure that whatever I had found was theirs.
Eventually if no one claimed the item and I’d done all I could to find the owner, I’d keep it without guilt, being always willing to return it if an owner turned up.
It’s not unusual to see people with metal detectors on the beach, and of course they’re looking for “lost” items. I’ve always thought that it might be fun to use on of those — but finding something that way doesn’t take the onus off the finder and allow him or her to automatically keep their booty. Anyone trying to find treasure this way should be aware that many states have laws that cover just state parks, beaches and recreation areas. State web-sites usually have information about regulations and limitations, and there are some states that don’t allow metal detecting under any situations, I discovered. Some others may require either verbal, written permission or a permit. Then there may be other specific regulations governing the kind of treasure one finds.
Best to take Thomas Jefferson’s advice: “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”