I just lost my mobile phone in the bus on my way to work (left it on the seat). I called from another phone, and someone answered me, telling me that indeed I had left my phone in the bus seat. We are to meet in a public place by the end of the day, so I can get my phone back.

Would the other person be waiting for some type of monetary retribution? If not, could I myself offer such reward? Would it not be considered rude? (in the sense that the other person is doing me a favour out of kindness and not out of financial gain).

Context is United Kingdom.


PS: for those interested in the actual outcome, I met the person, and made the gesture of opening my wallet while telling him "please accept this small gift in return", to which he denied immediately, saying that it was not a problem at all. I preferred this than actually having my money ready in my hand, to reduce the awkwardness of me pushing money to the OP and the OP pushing it back to me.

  • 3
    When I want to return something, when making an appointment for a meeting, I'll try to find a meeting place that doesn't cost me much. If I have to travel to return something, I'd indicate that to the item's owner. That's a natural point in the conversation where the owner can offer to compensate for travel cost, etc. – Hobbes Sep 6 '17 at 10:14
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    May I kindly point out @luchonacho that 'retribution' does indeed have the 'technical meaning' of repayment but is typically used in English in a negative sense as in 'punishment' -- the more commonly used word for your sense in question is 'compensation.' – English Student Sep 6 '17 at 17:51
  • Please don't post answers in comments. If you want to answer the question, do so. That is the only way your answer can be vetted by the community. – Catija Sep 8 '17 at 19:32

11 Answers 11

up vote 33 down vote accepted

Would the other person be waiting for some type of monetary retribution?

That's difficult to say, since the other person is unknown to you. It may very well be the other person is just acting out of kindness, and not expecting a reward at all. On the other hand, you stated your concern about the stranger having made some costs by traveling to the public meeting place. This still does not mean the stranger is 'expecting' a reward, but it might be nice to offer one to him/her anyway.

If not, could I myself offer such reward? Would it not be considered rude?

I would say that yes, you can. Where I come from (The Netherlands), offering to reward a person who returns an expensive/important item is definitely not rude. It is seen as an additional expression of gratitude. But be prepared to graciously accept a stranger's kindness if they refuse your offer of money.

And in your case, you could say something like:

I'm really appreciating what you did for me, and I would like to at least reimburse you for some of the costs you might have made travelling to this place.

If your monetary reward is declined, just be sure to thank the other person very much, and show how glad you are that you have your phone back, and that you are even happier that the other person is so kind they feel that they do not need to receive a reward.

In my personal experience, when returning a jewelry item with lots of emotional value, the other person offered me a monetary reward as well. I politely declined, and then the other person managed to conjure up a thank-you card from somewhere. She had written some very kind words on it, and I must confess I am still keeping it today.

So I would say, definitely don't hesitate in offering a monetary reward, but don't push it if the other person declines. And a thank-you card is a very good back-up.

This is very difficult to answer since you don't know about the person who returned your phone.

Some people just like to help without expecting anything, so a thank you note is sufficient for them. You can also do something that is helpful for them without asking them. Though it totally depends on you what you do.

As far as it is about monetary reward, although some people may like it, but it's not always good. Give them a gift like box of chocolate or you can offer them a treat.

I once forgot my bag in bus, which has my college ID card and necessary documents. The person who found it contacted me via the phone number on the card. I said thank you and gave him 50 bucks, but he refused and said,

I didn't do it for money. I am just helping.

So, instead of giving him money, I gave him a treat, a soft drink and a packet of Lays, at nearby small restaurant. He didn't refuse this offer.

That person is honest and have a good nature because he is helping a stranger. Therefore, money is not suitable in this case.

Monetary reward can work sometimes, but not always. So instead of this, try offering that person something like chocolates or doing something helpful for them. And offering a pack of chips and soft drink was just a way to show my gratitude.

This NYTIMES post shares some tips.

No one should be expecting to be compensated for returning a lost item. That said, I would want to do something for them, as clearly there are plenty of people that don't bother to return things. It should be that we do "what is right" (returning an item that is not ours) without any expectation that doing the right thing requires us to be compensated for a show of good character. If they were inconvenienced in any way to do so, I'd be happy to try to accommodate that (gas money, bus fare, etc).

I probably would give them a small gift card to a local coffee shop or something similar. I think it's nice to be kind back to someone, but a money transaction always feels a little too much like paying someone, and that feels less like being kind and more like buying your things back (again, excepting actual costs the person returning the item may have incurred to return it). This is why it should never be expected. If it was me that had your phone & I actually have the nerve to say I expect 20GBP for returning it, am I not just extorting money from you then for your own property? If I don't say it, but still expect it, that still is quite the same idea. I think you should return things you found (or turn them in somewhere), then if someone wants to do something to thank you, that is it's own thing, but it should never be why you do it or something you expect out of it. Likewise I have been offered money for returning items. I have never taken it. I was never financially inconvenienced and saw no reason to do it. One time I returned the wallet of a teen boy to his parents (he had gone away with a friend and lost it before he left). They tried to pay me (I said no) but what was lovely is their teen son came into my job once he was home with a thank you card with a hand written note about how much it meant to him that he got his wallet back with all his money as he had just cashed a paycheck and was sure it was all gone. That was lovely and he asked if he could hug me.

  • maybe someone could be expecting for compensation. It is also a bit too harsh to start from the basis that no one would be expecting compensation, as in some cases it might represent a real effort to coincide again for the phone to be delivered. – luchonacho Sep 8 '17 at 13:43

The Germans have written a law for this (who else?):

Up to 500 Euros: 5% of the value.

Above: 25 Euros + 3% of the value above.

For things that only have value for the person losing them (photos, non-backed up data): Judge's discretion.

There's a special rule for things found in public transportation that halves these awards.

  • 4
    A link to the law would indeed be nice. – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 7 '17 at 10:00
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    BGB § 971 (CC @DmitryGrigoryev) indeed mandates these percentages for "Finderlohn", but BGB § 978 cuts them in half for items found in public transport and waves them entirely if the item's value is less than 50 Euros. – Dennis Sep 7 '17 at 22:16

Bring a box of chocolates?

Similar situation: Our kitten got lost for six days, drama, visits to all vets within 10miles to chat with receptionists and hand out flyers, plastering posters (with less personal details) visibly on neighborhood street furniture like telephone poles, ... And eventually during lunch in the city centre a phonecall from a vet quite far away [to the name+number in the IDchip -- so all those vet-visits were pointless] that somebody had brought him in. So! On a jog to the car I passed an upmarket chocolate shop and bought a decent box (time cost: 3min) and went to pick him up.

For another cat that got lost (2002? Before ID chips anyway), from phonecall I knew a female pensioner: I picked up (without much thinking, clearly!) a hand-made bowl I'd just bought (among other things) from an artisan in Japan. I'm not sure it is/was as much appreciated as I missed it; I had bought a pair, gave the other to a friend.

Note that "missing cat" posters often mention financial rewards, as if that's a motivation to go look for it. Or if you found it, £50 offered will sway you from keeping it (at least £300/year) or kicking it out without phoning.

Motivations: I would feel awkward being offered money to bring back a cat. On the face of it, your phone is much less personal than my family member --- but considering all the personal photos etc on it so it's similar.

I'd be somewhat insulted being offered money for doing the obvious, decent thing.

BUT I'd expect some sort of gesture beyond words of thanks, but what amount of money? 10% of new-value, more/less? The value of the data [time spent on reinstalling after remote wiping etc, risk of ID theft] is higher than the value of the thing. Cash to you (poor student? extremely rich lady-that-lunches?) has different value than to me (middle age, middle income)... so figures are hard.

I've found a phone on a market (say 2005 -- a dumb Nokia, no photos/email/data) and waited 15min to give it back. I WOULD have appreciated being offered (the cash for) a coffee there (cold! windy!), but would have refused anything more.

Choice considerations: "A bottle of wine" is ruled out because a good chance your finder is a Muslim, ex-alcoholic, underage (can't judge on phone!), health-fascist, or otherwise tee-total. And else choice would be hated both by a wine snob and a beer-swilling anti-snob.

So a bunch of flowers can be a good choice for a (female?) finder --- but still can be awkward (allergies! flower-hater!); I'd say half the men would appreciate it. But depends on a nice florist at hand. And finder may be on their way to an evening work do, or long commute, etc... so wilting or having to give it to their host.

Along the same lines, don't bring fresh squid.

(Even if allergic to chocolate, a box is appreciated AND can be passed on as it keeps a few days/weeks.)

Maybe cash after all?: Of course you'd want to retrieve the phone fast as possible (don't lock the finder into their home!), so cash is reasonable if nothing else at hand --- don't start a GreatBritishBakeOff showstopper to give.

But then at least verbally turn it into a thing/gift (like the "here, have a coffee" in my market scenario above; "beer money" is an expression in many languages; ... ).

  • A bottle of wine can be passed on, and used up when the receiver has visitors. – gnasher729 May 20 at 17:32

I understand that someone who considers it normal to return your phone could be offended by your offer of compensation...

My view on this is, if they take an hour off their day to go to the agreed upon meeting point to return your phone, then I should at least compensate them for that.

Last time I found someone's phone, she offered a bottle of wine.

Last time someone found my phone, I gave them 20€. They didn't want it, so I told them "ah come on, you drove to my place to return it, just consider it's for the gas."

10% is standard reward in Northern Europe. I have returned several phones I have found to the police and usually get a reward of €20-30 for that. The person losing the phone have to pay the lost and found department that fee to get the phone back, money I then can drop by and collect (or if no one picks up the phone in 3 months I get the phone).

I would offer someone who found my phone an amount in that ballpark but be a little surprised if they accepted it. But especially kids/teenagers deserve their reward. €25 as an unexpected income is good money for them.

Edit: offer a reasonable amount of money and if they refuse, also bring something like chocolate, a flower or similar and tell them "at least, can I give you this as a gesture of my appreciation?".

Should you offer a monetary reward?

That is entirely your decision. If you feel that giving the person money for returning your phone is appropriate due to the prevention of all the things that go hand in hand with losing a phone, e.g insurance claim, lost contacts, lost photos, lack of phone for given period.... the list goes on, then go ahead. I would very much doubt the person would consider the gesture rude. It is then up to them to accept your offer or politely decline. You could then insist, but that would be up to you to gauge how the other person declined your offer. If you insisted, would they then be offended, or would they likely accept as perhaps they only declined first time to not want to appear rude themselves.

I once left a phone in a taxi, and rung my phone and left a very pathetic voicemail offering money and untold gratitude if someone would return my phone. The taxi driver heard the voicemail and came back to return it, only upon paying more than i offered. He had obviously concluded the phone was important to me. Being very drunk at the time I just paid the money, when a more suitable course of action might have been to contact the taxi firm. I was nevertheless glad to have my phone back. This was before technology had moved on, and my phone could have been sold on much more easily, without the phone being blocked etc.

What if you don't offer a monetary reward?

After weighing up all the benefits of having your phone returned to you by a seemingly good-natured member of public, you may deem that offering a monetary reward isn't appropriate, this is perfectly acceptable. The person returning your phone may be perfectly happy to just return it, and leave. If after no offer from yourself is made, they ask for a reward, then unfortunately you are dealing with someone that was clearly only interested in a potential reward rather than just the kind gesture of returning your phone. In this instance you would then need to decide if you should reward them or not. In my opinion, I would not. You have already decided not to, and shouldn't be bullied into it.

The person who has your phone has failed to do two key things:

  1. Hand it over to the bus driver. All bus depots have lost property facilities and the bus driver would have a responsibility to take it there upon being given it. Instead of doing this, the person with your phone took it off of the bus. Why?
  2. Hand it to the police. Upon taking your phone off the bus, the person who found your phone should have handed it in to their local police station or at least contacted the police to report the find. The person with your phone failed to do this, also. Why?

I'm in the UK also and I'd personally not meet up with them in person. I'd instead ask them to hand the phone in at their local police station so that you can collect it from there.

There is no reason to give this person a reward, as they have no right to be holding on to your property in the first place.

  • I wonder whether this is a UK specific way of handling it. I am in France and witnessed both the loss and the finding of a few phones. Everytime there was a direct contact between people (and no reward expected) – WoJ Oct 12 at 8:44

You're compensating them for their time, and for inconveniencing them... you're not offering a finder's fee. You're showing your appreciation to them. Keep that in mind and it's clear that offering something says things about you.

I would say, a £10–20 card at Starbucks or Costa is appropriate.

Chocolates are NOT a great idea. They're personal gifts, and not all chocolates are liked by all.. some hate caramels, some don't like nuts, etc. Some are off sugar... and let's be honest, we don't need to be encouraging more sugar consumption. LOL.

This is a stranger. You have no idea what they like/appreciate, but a gift card at a coffee shop where they can pick up a tea/coffee/treat that they like is universal.

The Japanese are masters at gift-giving. More often than not, they give cash as appreciation (like when staying at someone's house), making sure the cash itself is in good condition of course... and delivered in an envelope. Other times, it will be a consumable ( food ) as gifts of appreciation to co-workers for covering for them while on vacation, things that the person can either eat together with others or pass on as a gift. And then other times it's simply a gift card for a catalogue ( more formal situations like showing thanks to wedding guests ).

Gift card or cash. Universal tokens of appreciation.

Anything else... you're potentially wasting your effort.

No, you are not obligated to monetarily reward him

What he is doing is extremely nice. He is actually using some of his time to help a complete stranger. This shows that you are dealing with a good person, he probably doesn't expect any money in exchange. Keep this in mind and decide whether or not give him any reward. Also consider that offering him money probably won't be considered rude, since it just shows that you are thankful, and he can easily and politely decline them.

There is no obligation, but the decision is up to you. Therefore, if you decide to give a reward, do see that it doesn't come off as rude.

protected by NVZ Sep 7 '17 at 22:33

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