Have you ever received a payment in error?
What should you do if unexpected money turns up in your bank account?
Ok, the chances of someone putting £100,000 in your bank account are very, very slim… but this really did happen to me!
It was September 16th, 2014, and I was about to cook dinner when I quickly logged into my Lloyds Bank app. Scrolling through my accounts, I saw something amazing: my dormant savings account suddenly had £100,000 in it!
Of course, I forgot about dinner and called everyone around to stare into my phone. Imagine such a thing happening not long after you’d started a money-saving blog!
I knew it was an accident, but my brain still started to cook up ways that it could possibly belong to me.
Where did it come from? Whose was it? Could I keep it?
If this does ever happen to you (with any sum of money, not just one this large), remember that it isn’t yours. Sorry, but you can’t spend it! According to the Theft Act 1968, Section 24 A:
Dishonestly retaining a wrongful credit.
(1) A person is guilty of an offence if—
(a) a wrongful credit has been made to an account kept by him or in respect of which he has any right or interest;
(b )he knows or believes that the credit is wrongful; and
(c) he dishonestly fails to take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to secure that the credit is cancelled.
Plenty of people have been jailed or received various other sentences for spending money that was paid to them in error. Pleading ignorance doesn’t help much, unless you were expecting exactly the same amount from another source, and can prove it!
In short, finders keepers absolutely does not apply.
What did I do?
I called the bank quite early the next morning to let them know I had someone’s hundred thousand pounds. I was commended on my honesty/insanity, but told that they couldn’t find the rightful owner. The woman on the other end even asked me if I was sure it couldn’t have been meant for me.
I have to admit, even the idea of it sitting there was making me itchy – imagine the things one could do, even if just as a moneysitter! If only to be the holder of an offset mortgage! But then there was the thought of explaining this gem to HMRC… And I kept wondering if this was someone’s house sale about to fall through, or much-needed inheritance gone for a walk.
I hated the idea of what the person on the other end must have been going through.
But come on… can’t you do anything with accidental money?
You could keep it in a high-interest savings account until it gets claimed by its rightful owner, but you must tell the bank straight away. The account my accidental money had landed in was one I no longer used, and paid a pitiful rate of interest, but I had current accounts that paid 5% – only I was too scared to move a penny! I did get the courage to call up and ask for that account’s rate to be increased, but it didn’t benefit me much – a few pence several months later.
Can they just take it back?
Yes. In my case, the bank put an end to my discomfort by raiding my bank account after a few days and taking the money back. I was expecting it, but I’d have preferred the courtesy of some kind of communication. It felt, oddly, like a violation; like the postman coming in uninvited to take back the neighbour’s letter that was delivered in error.
Nowadays, banks have taken extra steps to make sure that accidental payments can be returned to their rightful owners, by updating their terms and conditions to allow them to withdraw the cash without permission. It used to be much more difficult to retrieve payments made in error, which caused no end of grief to the poor souls who sent money to the wrong accounts through a minor slip-up.
At the time, this wasn’t the case and I did actually email to complain about the entire shambolic episode. It was being kept in the dark I didn’t appreciate, and bizarrely, having a fortune in the bank was stressing me out! I actually got a phone call from a rep promising me £4 for my mobile phone call, and £35 for my general discomfiture.
But where did it come from?
Well, it seemed to be an error on the part of a bank employee as the transaction had been made in a branch.
I’ll probably never know any more than that, but if you’ve ever lost £100,000 for a few days, it might have been me who was babysitting your cash!