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Would someone return a lost pair of Gucci sunglasses worth $500 if they found a QR code sticker on it?

This story originally appeared on PingTag’s blog.

Are most people honest and good by nature?

Would they keep an expensive lost item that they found? Or would they go out of their ways to return it to its owner?

And are they more likely to return it when there is a private and secure way to do so?

This is the story of an expensive pair of sunglasses who spent a week under water in a wild river and still found their ways back to their owner because of a small QR code sticker that was attached to them.

INTRODUCTION

Bluetooth trackers have become very popular in the past few years, especially with the introduction of Apple’s AirTags and Samsung’s SmartTags. Those small devices are useful for tracking down your keychain or luggage if you lose them or leave them behind. They have also proven to be useful in other undesirable scenarios like stalking and unreachability.
However, you cannot attach those trackers to everything that you own, like your camera, wallet, headphones, glasses, jacket, or even your vape, which are among the most commonly forgotten and lost items, according to The 2022 Uber Lost & Found Index.

An increasingly popular alternative to those expensive battery-operated trackers has been lost-and-found QR code labels.

And the idea behind them is simple: you attach those stickers to the items that you own and add your phone number to the QR codes on them. If you lose any of them, people can scan the code and get in touch with you.

However, there are a couple of challenges with this solution…

1- PRIVACY

Most lost-and-found QR code labels on the market reveal the owner’s identity and contact information to anyone who scans them. For instance, if you lose your keychain and it has a QR code with your contact information on it, anyone who scans it can look up your phone number online and find your address. Suddenly, a stranger has your keys and knows where you live.

That’s scary!

Even if the owner of an item is not worried about sharing their contact information with strangers, many people would be concerned about calling or texting a random number that popped up when they scanned a QR code sticker.

And their privacy concerns are well justified given how QR codes have been using by scammers in the past.

PingTag has solved that challenge by creating a private communication platform that allows people to hide their identity and contact information while receiving emails and text alerts from anyone who finds their lost item and replying anonymously via SMS.

2- GOODWILL

The second challenge with this solution is that it relies on people’s honesty and goodwill: would people go out of their way to return an item they found and that had a QR code label on it?

We have been operating under that belief and assumption at PingTag, but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that one of our customers shared a story with us that

Here is the story in his own words…

Liam’s story

My name is Liam Blackwell.

On July 23rd, 2022, I went to Tahoe City with family and friends to enjoy a white-water rafting adventure along the Truckee River.

Liam on a rafting trip with his family and friends

Before heading on the trip, I had put PingTag QR code labels on several things that I was taking along, including my $500 Gucci sunglasses that my wife had bought for me as a Christmas gift. Since the handles on the glasses were a bit narrow, I cut one of the stickers to fit, and attached it on the inside.

Liam’s sunglasses with the lost-and-found QR code label attached to them

We stopped to take some photos in the river, and I remember removing my hat and putting my phone on the boat. However, l forgot to remove my sunglasses and dived into one of the deepest parts the river.

The location where Liam lost his sunglasses on the Truckee River

And that was when I last saw them on that trip.

I tried to work out the flow and sink rate, and I dived straight down from the side with swimming goggles on. I could almost get to the bottom, but there was no visibility, so I eventually gave up on my search and headed back home.

My friend Ryan said they were gone and lost forever, but I told him that I believed they would turn up someday…

A week later, I got a location scan alert from PingTag that someone scanned the QR code on my glasses. The following day, I got another one.

An instant location scan alert is a PingTag Premium feature that sends email and text alert to the owner of an item as soon as one of their lost-and-found labels is scanned, along with the precise time and geographic location of the scan. If the person who scans the QR code doesn’t agree to share their location, PingTag finds the approximate location based on their IP address and shares it with the owner.

The two location scan alerts that Liam received when his QR code was scanned

At that point, I assumed that there was either a glitch in PingTag’s scan alert system, or that someone actually found my glasses and was trying to figure out if the information that showed when the QR code is scanned is legit.

So, I logged in to my PingTag dashboard and left a message on the page that opened when the QR code on my glasses is scanned again…

Customizing each QR code’s landing page is another useful PingTag Premium feature: At any time, the owner can login to their account, select a label, and add photos and important information, or a public message, to the page that opens when that label is scanned. In this case, Liam left a message on his label page letting the person who found the glasses who he was, and where/how he had lost them.

The message that Liam left on his QR code label’s page

A few days later, I got yet another scan alert. However, this time, it was followed by a private SMS using PingTag’s anonymous messaging from the person who found my glasses.

The most unique feature of PingTag is privacy: neither the owner nor the finder has to reveal their contact information to each other. Instead, they can use PingTag’s private chat feature, which forwards text messages anonymously between both of them while keeping their identities and contact information hidden from each other.

First anonymous contact between Liam and Chris

ENTER CHRIS

My name is Chris and I’m a law enforcement officer for a large agency in Southern California. Part of my duties involve public safety diving, where I recover evidence and missing persons in some of the worst possible conditions imaginable.

As a break from this work, I like to take short vacations where I SCUBA and free dive the clear mountain streams and lakes of Northern California. I do this in order to clean the waters of trash and to find items that are inadvertently dropped in the water.

I consider it my honor to return any item that I can to their rightful owner, if possible.

Over the summer I came upon an expensive pair of designer sunglasses and knew that it would be impossible to locate the owner. As I examined the inside of one of the frames, I saw a little label that said: “Contact me” accompanied by a small QR code sticker next to it.

I was skeptical at first, being wary of identity theft and having never seen something of this sort on an item I had found.

I eventually scanned the code and an owner’s name and contact information popped up on my phone. I contacted the owner and was able to get the sunglasses back to him.

Without that QR code label, the glasses would have no way of finding their way back home.

Over the course of the past 25 years of diving and recovering various objects, I have found so many things that have never found their way home. Examples of these include phones, waterproof speakers and plenty of sunglasses. Here is just a sample of the items that I have found through the years and that could have been returned had PingTag been used by their owners.

Some of the lost sunglasses that Chris found during his dives
Lost GoPro’s and waterproof speakers whose owners were never found
Lost phones that are still operational with no way to reach their owners

If PingTag was used on a much broader scale, it could change the return of lost objects, dramatically. Of course, this requires good will on the part of humans and humankind, but I still believe that people are still good at heart.

- Chris M., Law enforcement officer and search-and-rescue diver

Liam and Chris’s story show that most people are honest and willing to return lost items when they can get in touch with their owners.

Using PingTag QR stickers, Liam instantly found out when his glasses were found and scanned and was able to leave a message for Chris on the page that opened when he scanned the label on the glasses. And Chris was able to communicate with Liam using PingTag’s private messaging platform, and to return the glasses without revealing his contact information.

Both of them were happily surprised that the label has survived a week under water and that the QR code on it was still scannable!

I am very happy! My investment in PingTag has already paid off as my sunglasses that were lost and returned to me were worth $500! My friend Ryan said they were lost and gone forever. I’d told him that I believed they would turn up someday — I was happy to prove Ryan wrong and even happier to know that there are good people in the world willing to take the time to do the right thing. Thank you, Chris, and thank you PingTag!

- Liam Blackwell, PingTag user

CONCLUSION

We started PingTag betting on people’s honesty and goodwill to return a lost item when they are given a private and secure way to do so, and we are happy that our bet and our customers’ investments are paying off!

PingTag’s basic (Lite) version is free forever, which allows you to generate and print your own lost-and-found QR code labels at home. You can update your contact information anytime without having to change the QR codes. PingTag Premium is a one-time upgrade that adds useful features like privacy, location scan alerts, multiple contacts and custom landing pages to all the tags in your account.

You can also purchase high quality tags and labels from the PingTag store!

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When you lose a valuable item that has a PingTag on it, people can scan the QR code to contact you to return it back to you. You receive SMS + email alerts, and you reply anonymously via SMS, without revealing your email or phone number to anyone.

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Amir Khella

Entrepreneur, product designer, and consultant. Helped 15 startups design+launch (5 acquired). Founder of Keynotopia and Augmentop. 100K+ customers.