Hidden Cash mystery: Chaotic scenes in California as crowds seek free money left by unknown philanthropist in treasure hunt

@HiddenCash: ‘Social experiment’ leads to chaotic scenes in Los Angeles

Los Angeles

The sun was out as usual in southern California this weekend but, even so, one particular stretch of Hermosa Beach in south Los Angeles was unusually busy for a lunchtime on Saturday. Most of the beachgoers weren’t surfers or sunbathers, however, but treasure-hunters on the trail of free money, left by the anonymous benefactor behind the Twitter feed @HiddenCash.

The mysterious tweeter, whose generosity has led to chaotic scenes up and down California, announced on Saturday morning that he had stuffed cash into 36 plastic models of red Angry Birds and buried them ankle-deep in the sand at Hermosa Beach, “between the pier and the volleyball nets”. One person who had dashed to the scene in search of a stash described the scene as “pandemonium”, with several news helicopters hovering overhead to film the frenzied hunt.

A similar sight greeted visitors to the Empire shopping centre in Burbank on Friday evening, after @HiddenCash secreted three envelopes filled with dollar bills in the area. Reports suggested hundreds swarmed the mall, stopping traffic, clambering over a bus stop and rustling frantically in the bushes until the money was found. One man found $135 (£80) outside a restaurant, another got $200 from a rubbish bin, and a 14-year-old girl walked away with $210 pulled from a flower bed.

A man searches in the sand for one of 36 buried plastic Angry Bird orbs filled with hidden cash in Hermosa Beach, California

@HiddenCash began the state-wide treasure hunt in San Francisco a little over a week ago, hiding cash-stuffed envelopes across the Bay Area before he headed south to Los Angeles.

On Friday he hinted that the latest location “sounds like where a robin or eagle might keep their money”. A bird-bank? Yes, almost: Burbank. After the cash is found, he retweets photographs of the lucky recipients to his followers, of which he now has at least 410,000.

Each envelope or stuffed bird contains a relatively modest amount of cash, usually somewhere between $100 and $250, but that hasn’t prevented Californians travelling tens of miles to join the hunt. @HiddenCash has described himself as between 35 and 45, and a lucky member of the wealthiest “1 per cent” of Americans.

The furtive philanthropist encourages those who find the cash to share it, calling the game an “anonymous social experiment for good”. In a statement, he said, “There really is no agenda here – not political, not business, not religious – other than bringing people together in a positive way and bringing a smile to people’s faces.” He added: “I’ve made millions of dollars the last few years, more than I ever imagined, and yet many friends of mine, and people who work for me, cannot afford to buy a modest home. This is my way of giving back to the community and also having fun.”

@HiddenCash has already spawned copycats not only in the US, but also in the UK, where @HiddenCash_UK has already left envelopes filled with £50 or more in Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Brighton and London.

Responding to concerns over public safety, he said: “I will do my best to pick locations that are safe, but please use common sense and caution. Please also be respectful to the locations themselves and surrounding businesses and be kind and happy with each other, as that’s what this is all about.”

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