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Hidden Cash: Treasure Hunting in the Digital World

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Photo:  @HiddenCash, via Twitter
Photo: @HiddenCash, via Twitter

By Adam Wenger

You don't need a Twitter account to know about @HiddenCash -- the formerly anonymous, now exposed real estate investor who's been leaving wads of cash all around America.

I was lucky enough to get in on the act early, before the account had over 600,000 followers, before the whole thing became an international phenomenon.

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Photo: @HiddenCash, via Twitter

With just a few hundred Twitter followers as competition, I easily found two envelopes, each stuffed with $100 in twenty dollar bills. A day later, the Associated Press wanted to talk. So did BBC Radio, in England -- some 5,000 miles removed from the disgusting utility pole on the corner of 6th and Mission that I gingerly fished my hand into. I did so in search of treasure, fueled by the excitement and the rush that comes with frantically biking a few blocks to find a sealed envelope filled with cash.

"There's a kid in all of us," said Neil Smelser, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Berkeley. He likened the success of Hidden Cash to those pesky Nigerian e-mail scams that falsely promise riches. Getting rich without much effort. The intoxicating allure of instant fortune. Only in this case, it's real.


Hidden Cash comes in the wake of Tips for Jesus, an absurdly generous tipper (said to be former PayPal VP Jack Selby) who has been traveling around, leaving waiters thousands of dollars in tips.

In a city notorious for its wealth gap -- a recent study found San Francisco is on par with Rwanda in terms of income inequality -- is this unique form of giving the answer?

The guy behind Hidden Cash, Jason Buzi, has no grand vision. He's not in this game to end poverty or fix the wealth gap. Buzi says it's merely a social experiment. The goal being to have fun and pay it forward.

"Hidden Cash is not going to save you, the lottery is not going to save you," Buzi told HuffPost.

A rich man directly distributing money to those who are less fortunate. I asked Tom Campbell, former Dean of Berkeley's Haas School of Business, if this equates to trickle down economics.

He burst out laughing.

"No," he said.

But what would Ronald Reagan think about it?

"I think he'd be very Libertarian about it and say 'God Bless America! It's his money, he can do whatever he wants with it.'"

Hidden Cash has quickly spread from San Francisco to San Jose, Los Angeles, New York and even Mexico City. Come July, Buzi plans to hide money in London, Paris and Madrid.

In a recent tweet, Buzi says he always wanted to be a famous writer. That hasn't panned out, yet. But as the world's most buzzed-about philanthropist, he now has half a million people following his every word on Twitter.

By fermenting such excitement -- from Twitter buzz to media coverage -- Hidden Cash has shown how hungry people are for adventure and monetary reward. Treasure hunting in the digital world.

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