Operation Lucky Bag

If you saw a wallet lying on the ground, what would you do? A lot of people might, out of curiosity, pick it up to examine it. They might even walk away with it. But if they did, they could find themselves surrounded by police and facing arrest.

This happened to Carlos Alayo who picked up a wallet he saw laying on a New York City subway platform. When he went to get on the train, police stopped him. WNBC.com explains:
The 32-year-old had been ensnared in Operation Lucky Bag, an initiative from the New York City Police Department to lay decoys -- shopping bags, purses, backpacks or wallets -- around the subway system under the watchful gaze of officers who wait to see what passersby will do. The decoys often contain real credit cards issued under pseudonyms to the police department. Theft of a credit card is grand larceny, a felony that could lead to jail time.
Police said that Operation Lucky Bag led to 101 arrests last year. Those individuals had a combined total of 761 prior arrests last year, said police spokesman Paul Browne.
"A person who takes or finds property which is lost or mislaid has a legal obligation to make efforts to return the property to its owner, which can include delivering the property to police," Browne said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has complained about Operation Lucky Bag, suggesting that there must be better uses of police time. I didn't even realize it was illegal to take a wallet laying on the ground. I would try to find out who it belonged to and return it to them, but I wouldn't have thought it was illegal not to do this.


Posted on Thu Dec 06, 2007


How are you supposed to make efforts to find the owner or hand it in to the police if you can't even pick it up??? Or do they expect you to use your psychic powers to gather info about the owner?
Posted by Nettie  in  Perth, Western Australia  on  Thu Dec 06, 2007  at  05:26 PM
Unless these things are lying in front of a police station...you'd HAVE to walk off with it.
Posted by Maegan  in  Tampa, FL - USA  on  Thu Dec 06, 2007  at  06:30 PM
All the crime that goes on in NYC, they worry about this. How do they know the "thieves" weren't taking it to return it to the owner, before someone with less noble intentions snagged it?
Posted by RHM  on  Thu Dec 06, 2007  at  08:08 PM
110 arrests - but i bet the conviction rate is substantially lower...
Posted by outeast  on  Fri Dec 07, 2007  at  02:49 AM
If I saw a wallet lying on the ground, I'd pick it up and take it to the police station - but apparently, under this law, I'd be breaking the law by picking it up and walking away with it. Thay'll teach me to be helpful and nice!
Posted by Nona  in  London  on  Fri Dec 07, 2007  at  05:14 AM
I once (many years ago now)found a wallet at a sporting event and give it to a security guard. I had opened the wallet and saw the name and that there was about $25 dollars in it (I don't think there was a credit card).

A few months later, I find out that someone I know knows a person by the name in the wallet. I call this person and ask if he lost his wallet at the sporting event months ago and he says he had--then I told him that I had found his wallet and gave it to event security.

He was really mad (not at me) because he never got the wallet. He was mad that even if they took the money they didn't just give him back the wallet that had some sentimental stuff in it.
Posted by Floormaster Squeeze  in  Spring Hill, MA  on  Fri Dec 07, 2007  at  12:11 PM
Yeah, this whole thing does seem rather silly. Now, if they had done this and then kept track of the credit card to see if anybody tried to use it, that would be a different matter. But just picking up the wallet and walking off with it? You're going to be arresting every good samaritan who passes by.
Posted by Accipiter  on  Fri Dec 07, 2007  at  04:38 PM
Whatever happened to "finders keepers" ?
Posted by Unfairly Balanced  in  Earth  on  Sat Dec 08, 2007  at  11:39 AM
Considering I was ticketed for drinking on a friend's roof at a party in Brooklyn (public property, they said), this really doesn't surprise me all that much.
Posted by PH  on  Sat Dec 08, 2007  at  04:08 PM
I've read recently that NYC's crime rate is the lowest of any big city in America, but it must be REALLY low if the cops have time to waste on entrapment nonsense like this.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Mon Dec 10, 2007  at  12:14 AM
By the way, has it occurred to anyone in the NYPD that this could possibly lead to people not turning in legitimate lost wallets for fear of getting arrested for picking the things up?
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Mon Dec 10, 2007  at  12:15 AM
As described this is a stupid waste of time. As several people have pointed out, you have to pick up the item in order to get it to the police. The only justification for the arrests would be if the person picking up the wallet, shopping bag, or whatever, was clearly not going to turn it in. And how do you prove that? Hell's teeth and pogo sticks - this is stupid.

BTW, since this thread concerns credit cards, my security word was "charge" - nice touch but obviously a random event.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Tue Dec 11, 2007  at  04:32 PM
How pathetic of the cops in NY. I'm planning on a trip up there soon, but I'll be sure not to pick up anything I think a stranger dropped to try to return it. Truth be told, if I did find something, I'd try to contact the owner directly- I wouldn't even trust the authorities to return it without at least taking the cash for themselves.
Posted by Justin  in  Atlanta, GA  on  Tue Dec 11, 2007  at  06:41 PM
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