Samaritan or Cynic?

As I walked up to the bank of ATMs, one of them was already beeping at me. There was another gentleman using the one to its left and I grabbed a deposit envelope and approached it. There in its money maw was a stack of new crisp $20 bills. A receipt for someone else’s transaction fluttered softly from the receipt slot.
“Someone’s gonna be in a world of pain,” the other man, dressed in a business suit and holding his own cash withdrawal, said to me as I looked at the wad of cash. It looked like around $300. He pointed out that, “At least they remembered to take their card.”
Several thoughts occurred to me in quick succession.

  • I could take the cash. If someone was dumb enough to leave it here in a beeping ATM, they deserve to learn a lesson.
  • I could take the cash into the bank and let them sort it out. If I did something dumb like this, I’d still hope there was someone decent out in the world.
  • I could split the cash with this guy so he’d keep his mouth shut.
  • There’s a camera pointed at me right now.

He asked, “They don’t print the account number on the receipt.” I looked at it, and said, “There’s a partial card number here.” It felt like an awful lot of money. They were all new twenties, like Monty Hall might give me when I turned down what’s behind curtain number three.
I took the money and the receipt from the machine, walked into the branch and handed it to a loan representative, who looked aghast and thanked me for my honesty.
But my first inclination was to take the cash. Think of the Wonka chocolate bars it would buy!
What would you have done?

August 3, 2005

18 responses to Samaritan or Cynic?

  1. Darren said:

    I, despite fantasies of being a good little consumer, would have done the same thing as you and handed it into the branch.
    It sucks having a conscience.

  2. Tammy said:

    Yes, very nice, but I would have done it too, not only my conscience bothering me, but knowing the camera saw me do it!

  3. Scott said:

    With the camera, I would definitely have turned it in. Without it, I would really be torn. I feel so dirty.

  4. Amber said:

    I would have taken the money inside. Just cause I’d hope someone would do the same for me if I ever became a grade-a idiot for a minute. But later I would have kind of regretted not keeping it and buying that new Coach bag I have my eye on haha.

  5. rich said:

    I would have taken the cash inside, mainly because the bank can easily track down who it belongs to and recredit/redeposit the amount.
    Plus the whole camera thing.
    If I found $300 on the sidewalk, well, that’s a different story.
    And I have been known to not go back into a store after noticing that the clerk forgot to scan a fairly expensive item (usually forgotten to be scanned while they made sure I wasn’t trying to steal anything, oh the irony)

  6. Kaweh said:

    So, now that the camera has seen you taking the money out of the machine, has it also seen you give it to the bank worker?
    Maybe he just pocketed it.

  7. Gordon said:

    Without a camera would you have done the same thing? Me, without a camera and no-one around I’d have pocketed it. As you say, if anyone is that daft…
    But in the presence of others, camera or not, I think I’d have handed it in.
    Gosh, that’s alarmingly honest of me.

  8. Charles said:

    I would have turned it in, camera or no, because the guilt of taking the money would have been too much to bear.
    Yeah, me and guilt, we get along pretty well.

  9. tobie said:

    Due to the camera being there, I would have returned the money too.
    Gawd, but the money.. heheh..

  10. C(h)ristine said:

    being on the receiving end of a banking error — i would have turned the cash in.
    (BofA deposited a big check written to me…to some other account! it is their error. if only the person who received a 4 digit amount of cash would just pipe up and say “this isn’t my money!”)

  11. Marc said:

    The camera makes it tricky, but if you don’t ever enter your *own* pin and stuff, it would make it hard to find you out.
    I might have given it away too, but mostly from fear of being found out.
    this one time, I’m waiting in the car while my girlfriend is asking for directions at the Dunkin’ Donuts.
    This girl passes by, tlaking on her phone. She dropped her wallet.
    I waited till she was out of sight, grabbed her wallet. Didn’t have much in it, a student driver’s license and A HUNDRED BUCKS!
    So I kept it, never told GF, threw the wallet in the trash.
    If I ever lose my own, I’ll expect the same.

  12. Eric Blaska said:

    The same thing as you. The dishonesty would have hung over my head for months to come.

  13. Tom said:

    Tempting, but I’d have to side with you Lance. I would return the money to the bank… however, without the camera, my morals might not be so strong.
    Money on the street would be a different story.
    Who the hell leaves money in the bank machine dispenser, but remembers to take their card?

  14. Reality Bites said:

    I once did something really “good” like that once. Later when a staff member stole from one of the other staff members, everyone knew it wasn’t me! Karma baby.
    Good for you.

  15. Kevin said:

    I would have done the same damn thing you did. Damn my decent upbringing!

  16. Richard said:

    $300? I am recently wealthy after years of being poor. It took about a day for me to forget the years of poverty. $300 chump change, I spend at least half that every night on dinner. Double on the weekend? I may have taken it and filled up the tank of my hummer, just for the irony and a story to tell over a bottle of wine.

  17. Gene said:

    I would have turned the money in, but then would have obsessed for months about the situation — what happened to make someone take his card and leave the ATM before the cash was dispensed? Something horrible? Something wonderful? What?

  18. mopey said:

    Richard (of the hummer — thanks for the global warming, dirtbag!) and Marc (budding mugger) are pigs. I hope Richard soon goes back to being poverty-stricken. Just because you suddenly have good-fortune and are financially comfortable doesn’t meen you have to suddenly start emulating the worst elements in society (namely Arnold Schwartzenegger and George “Dubya” Bush)!!! Marc, maybe you should see a psychiatrist about your sociopathic tendencies. It isn’t only about being “honest” it’s about not being an asshole to another human being! Thank you Lance, and the other folks, for having some decency in this ever-declining world.