Finder’s Rights Over Lost Money and Phones

Finder's Rights



It is a general moral code throughout Nigeria that when you find lost money, such money should be returned to the police to avoid moral punishment from God or criminal sanction by the authorities. A person who finds a lost item and keeps it may be liable for stealing or may lay claim to the item or money as the rightful owner; this is based on the circumstances of each case. This article will answer the question of what to do when you find a lot of money or any other item and the legal responsibility, consequences, Finder’s rights, and privileges afforded under the law.


Finder of Chattel Under Nigerian law

A chattel is An object that is physically movable or stationary, excluding real estate and other similar entities. Money, cars, bags, etc., are classified as types of chattels. The general rule is that a finder of a chattel does not have absolute ownership of the chattel or property; however, when the item is lost or abandoned, a person who finds it becomes the owner provided the finder cannot locate the true owner.


As previously stated, the determination of a finder’s rights over lost property is contingent on the circumstances of each case. A finder may be held liable for theft, or they may assert a legitimate claim to the property in question. For instance, if a person discovers lost money in a bag alongside other items containing the contact address of the true owner, the established rule dictates that the finder must take proactive steps to contact the true owner or surrender the item to the police or other authorities such as the EFCC to facilitate the return to the rightful owner. It’s essential to note that there must be a clue available to identify the rightful owner. Failure to follow these steps could render the finder liable for theft.

Section 390 of the Criminal Code stipulates that when a person fraudulently causes a movable property, capable of being stolen, to move with the intent of permanently depriving the owner of that property, they are liable for the offense of stealing. In the context of finding a chattel such as money, if the money provides a clue to the rightful owner, the finder has a duty to return the money to the rightful owner. This can be achieved by utilizing information such as phone numbers, contact addresses, or any details that lead to the identification of the true owner.

However, where the money or item has no clue, contact address, or phone number, the finder of the money can take the money beneficially as the new owner. when the police take over the item in question and cannot give it to the true owner the finder can recover the money from the police by bringing an action for conversion as evident in the case of  Jeffries vs. Great Western Ry. (1856) 5 E & B. 802, 806. (Finder’s rights)

The same principle of Finder’s rights applies to the finder of a lost phone. If a person discovers a lost phone with a SIM card or phone number in the phone book, opting not to contact the true owner and choosing to erase all items on the phone could render that person liable for stealing the phone. Conversely, if the phone lacks a SIM card or any identifiable items providing clues to the true owner, the finder may rightfully claim the item for their benefit.

In the landmark case of Armory vs. Delamirie (1722) 1 Stra. 504; 93 E.R. 664, Armory, a chimney sweep’s boy, discovered a gem in a ring setting and sought an evaluation at Delamirie, a goldsmith’s shop. An apprentice, representing Delamirie, deceptively removed the gems under the pretext of weighing the item. When the apprentice returned the emptied setting, he asserted its value as three halfpence. Armory declined compensation, insisting that the gems and setting be returned in their original state. However, when the apprentice returned to the setting, it lacked the gems. Armory then initiated legal action against Delamirie in trover, holding Delamirie responsible through respondeat superior for the actions of its apprentice. in this case, the court affirmed the ownership of a lost chattel to rest on the finder.


In Conclusion, when a finder encounters a substantial sum of money or any item lacking identifiable clues to its owner, the finder assumes rightful ownership. In such cases, any individual disputing this ownership must present compelling evidence of a superior claim to the money or property in question. (Finder’s rights)

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