Monopoly may have introduced most of us to the idea of a “bank error in your favor,” but while it accounts to a nice, unexpected windfall in the board game, in real life, using this money could leave you facing criminal charges. In fact, if you find unexpected money in your bank account, the best thing you can do for yourself is to call the bank.
Can I Keep Money from Bank Errors?
To put it simply: no. In fact, just as it is illegal to keep money you found on the ground without attempting to find the owner, knowingly spending money that was accidentally deposited into your account is considered a form of theft. This means if the deposit was for less than $950, you could face misdemeanor charges and for amounts over that, you could even face felony charges.
Does This Really Result in Criminal Charges?
Not in most cases. Usually the bank will just make an effort to correct the mistake and get their money back. For small amounts where the bank cannot recover the funds, most people still won’t face charges, but in cases involving particularly large sums, criminal charges are not only possible, but likely.
Of course, it’s worth noting that in order to convict you of theft, the prosecution needs to show that you know the money was not actually yours. As an example, if a teller entered $1,200 instead of $1,020 when depositing a check, it’s reasonable to argue that you did not know or at least did not notice the mistake. On the other hand, if the teller accidentally entered $100,020 and you suddenly discovered $99,000 extra in your account, chances are you would notice unless you happen to regularly get $100,000 deposits in your bank.
A $1.2 Million Bank Error
In one particularly notable example, a woman in Louisiana was charged with both fraud and theft after she refused to return $1.2 million that was accidentally deposited in her Charles Schwab account instead of the $82 deposit she was supposed to recieve. The bank recognized the error within 24 hours of the mistake, but by that point, the woman had already transferred out much of their money and quickly used it to buy a new house and a new car. Charges were filed after the woman refused to return emails or calls from the bank for over a month.
What to Do if You Notice a Mistake On Your Statement
The best thing to do is to contact the bank. You don’t need to tell the person you contact that it was a mistake -after all, there’s always the chance that someone you know sent you a gift or that you simply forgot about an upcoming deposit from your employer. This way, your bank can tell you where the money came from.
If it is from a source you don’t recognize or you know the amount was higher than it should be, then you can notify the bank so they can remedy the error. In some cases, if the source of an error is never identified, you may eventually get to keep the money.
Whatever you do, do not transfer the funds out of the account or spend it. In fact, just putting it somewhere to earn interest until the mistake is identified can still be considered theft, though if it is deposited into an investment account, you don’t need to be concerned that the money is earning interest while the matter is investigated since the institution may simply deduct the interest after things are sorted out.
If you have any questions about mysterious bank deposits in your account, you can also help protect yourself by contacting a lawyer to ensure you don’t do anything with the funds that could leave you in legal trouble. Please call Peter M. Liss by calling (760) 643-4050.