Legal liability for making real-life treasure hunts for the public

I have mused before that if I were a billionaire, one fun thing I’d want to do with my money would be to hold treasure hunts for the public. Every few or months or so, I’d hide a few million dollars in cash (or some similarly valuable prize) somewhere in America, then post a few clues online about how to find it (it might be hidden in the wilderness in Wyoming, or a forest in Tennessee, etc.)

What sort of legal liability would I incur by doing this?

Some that come to mind is that the land might belong to the federal government, or that if people died of hypothermia or shot each other while fighting for the treasure, I might get sued. What else would be illegal about this?

Similar sorts of things have been done in the past:

  • In the 1960s and 1970s, Canadian Club whisky hid 25 cases of whisky in various spots around the world, and they then described where these were hidden in their advertising (including underneath a waterfall, and at the North Pole).
  • A 1982 book, The Secret, contained cryptic poems and paintings which gave clues to where twelve treasures had been hidden. To date, only three of the twelve have been found.

As far as I know, neither Canadian Club, nor the creator of the book, have faced any legal issues around them.

Depending on what clues you gave, people may decide that the treasure has been hidden somewhere that turns out to be an archaeological or other protected site.

Encouraging people to look for things in ways that lead them to damaging archaeological sites as possible locations is very uncool. They may not even be aware that they are doing so, but it could lead to fines or imprisonment. It is open as to what your exposure as the mastermind would be, but you may be charged as well.

The examples I’ve read specify in their rules that the hiding places are on publicly accessible land.

I wonder if an injury liability waiver is somehow needed?

isnt there some millionaire guy that hid a bunch or gold and jewels in the us south west desert and people died trying to find it but someone did after the guy died ?

I think he got in some trouble over it also … even cecil discussed it i think but i canr remeber the article

In the 2002 Game, “Shelby Logan’s Run”, player Bob Lord was severely injured after misunderstanding a clue and falling thirty feet down a disused mineshaft. The players were sent into the desert outside Las Vegas with a clue containing the warning “1306 is clearly marked. Enter ONLY 1306. Do NOT enter others.” Arriving at the site from an unexpected direction, Lord mistakenly entered mineshaft 1296, not realising that the mines were numbered, and ignored anonymous, spraypainted warnings assuming that they were part of the game. The fall crushed several vertebrae and left Lord a quadriplegic, and a lawsuit was filed against the organisers of that year’s Game, who were criticized for not mentioning the danger in the pre-game liability waiver.[6] There was no Seattle-based Game for three years after the 2002 Game, although the Bay Area Game continued apace. The August 2005 “Mooncurser’s Handbook” Game in Seattle, run by a group of twelve veteran Seattle Gamers, renewed the Seattle Game tradition, with a special emphasis on safety.

Yeah, that was Forrest Fenn, who lived, and fairly recently died in Santa Fe, NM. His treasure was found, IIRC, within the past two years, and he died shortly thereafter.

I’d been following the story (partly cause I always wanted to go hunting for it myself), but he never faced any actual legal trouble from what I remember. It’s public property he hid it on, and it’s his own material buried–he didn’t steal anything, he didn’t disturb any ruins or monuments, he just left something out there. Now there were some press conferences and statements pressuring him to call the whole thing off because a few people died in the process of looking for the treasure, but he never did, and his response was, “Look, I’m an 80 year old man who hid the thing. Keep that in mind. . .”

Personally, I say good for him! It got people outdoors and added to the mystique. I feel bad people died in the search, but not knowing their backgrounds or technical ability, I suspect they put themselves in over their heads.

To my knowldedge, the only legal trouble he’s faced was after he died, and the treasure was found. Some woman raised a lawsuit against his estate, claiming that she was decieved by the clues, and should have found the treasure.

Yeah, it was kinda ‘big’ local news here for a few weeks.

It’s really a pretty fascinating story for those who are interested:

Perhaps some Free Money like this?


was the one with some scandal, but because the winner was allegedly a cheating cheater, not because the author got in trouble for burying treasure in a park, I believe.

David Blaine did a book with an armchair treasure hunt. I know of it only because the puzzles and clues were designed by the guy behind the fantastic computer game The Fool’s Journey. IIRC A woman figured out the clues, filed a letter of intent with Blaine’s people (often a requirement of theses hunts. A token is hidden. If somebody just stumbles on it without filing a letter, they win nothing.) and found the golden ball hidden in the roots of an old tree.

Is it equally accessible to disabled people? Like in wheelchairs? Or blind people? Etc.

As a private venture, I suppose you could limit contestants to sighted, able-bodied people with enough spendable income to travel to a remote area to look, and be legally OK. But morally?

Guess that’s up to your own morals.
But there are plenty of people around who wouldn’t hesitate to judge you by their morals, and publicly call you all kinds of nasty names.

Geo-caching (which is a trivial sort of treasure hunting, although the only reward is satisfaction) seems to go on without any liability issues.

Blind people or those in wheelchairs can still contribute to figuring out the puzzles. They’d need help, of course, but then, they need help for lots of things in life, and I suspect that most treasure hunts are won by teams, anyway.