The Lost Wallet Experiment: Finding the World's Most Honest Cities

Lost Wallet on an Empty Street
Jeff Spielman/Getty Images

By Lisa Mahapatra

Helsinki, Finland, is one of the most honest cities in the world, while Lisbon, Portugal, is the least so, according to a social experiment conducted by Reader's Digest.

Reader's Digest wanted to know how honest world cities are, so it "lost" 192 wallets in 16 cities -- that's 12 wallets in each city -- to see how many would be returned. Each wallet contained the $50 equivalent of the local currency, as well as a name, phone number, family photo, coupons and business cards.

In Helsinki, 11 out of the 12 wallets dropped were returned. In Lisbon, only one was returned, and that was by out-of-town visitors.

Here's a map with the full results:

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Jonus Hk

Was is just a mistake that no cities in Asia were included? Id say Taipei and Tokyo are good bets to getting a wallet returned. Japanese are fanatical about it and have public lost and founds. In Taipei Ive seen people leave their laptops unattended for hours and no one touches them.

November 04 2013 at 12:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ikhwan Sahalan

Well that's pity, they didn't try to put the wallet in the huge part of Asian. If you can see Mumbai, India can save 9 out of 12 wallets, why not put it in the well known city of Makkah or Madinah in Saudi Arabia where majority of them are truly devoted on the teachings of Islam. Don't get me wrong, but if you can make an experiment travel up to helsinki, finland and go south to rio de janeiro, brazil why not go to the middle side of the world and see for yourself how it really is the society especially who have strong devotion towards their religion. This experiment must still go on...

October 26 2013 at 2:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

In Seattle I've lost mine twice in 20 years. Both times it was not only returned completely intact but the person returning it was willing to go out of their way to meet me to make sure they handed it to me in person. AND THE SEAHAWKS STILL ROCK!

September 30 2013 at 3:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I lost mine, never got it back and full of cash too.

September 30 2013 at 12:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'd like to see some more details about this 'study'. For one thing, we all know that some sections of a city would have few returns. Other sections, the majority would be returned. So someone with an agenda could easily have weighted the 'study' by selecting a particular neighborhood. After all, I if you plant a wallet in a neighborhood filled with prisoner halfway houses, winos, crackheads, or junkies, odds of getting a return are very low.

September 30 2013 at 11:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This was fun, albeit it silly. That is, in determining the validity of such a study, sample size is everything. Since the sample was so small at 12, no valid conclusions can/should be drawn from it. Where the wallets were placed in each city would be real important too. Would the results vary by time of day, and day of the week? Nonetheless as long as we're
having fun, I can tell you with some certainty these folks would've gone 0 for 12 if they had seeded them between Congress and the White House.

September 30 2013 at 9:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did they get the idea from that episode of the Three Stooges...trying to find a honest man?
Was the wallet tied to a fishing rod line?

September 30 2013 at 7:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Reinhart

Try Japan, it is the safest place I have ever been....

September 29 2013 at 10:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have heard several stories lately about people finding large sums of money and RETURNING IT.

September 29 2013 at 9:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Fred Murphy

Does anybody remember the T.S. Enoh Corporation? About 30 years ago an experiment offered a cash award to anyone who has done business with the company to fill out an all purpose form describing their experiences and sign it. But there is actually no such corporation, and T.S. Enoh spelled backwards is...

September 29 2013 at 7:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Fred Murphy's comment

I searched the internet and couldn't find any information on this. I'd be interested in reading about it if you have a source.

September 29 2013 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to saratginmd's comment
Fred Murphy

The study was done in downtown Baltimore, MD around 1987. I heard about it on the local news at the time. Not too many people filled out the survey, so the study concluded that the locals were fairly honest.

September 30 2013 at 1:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down