Sunday, February 03, 2008

What happens when an ATM dispenses free money?

Apparently ATM malfunctions are fairly rare, and most often limited to "eating" an ATM card. Rare is not impossible though, and yesterday my bank's ATM failed.

It gave me too much money.

At first, after much noise and delay, it coughed up a solitary twenty. I indignantly waved the bill in the face of the video camera. Then, after several more minutes of grinding and retching, the abashed machine retched up another pile of cash. I managed to pull it free of a jam and found $60 more than I'd asked for (the receipt matched my request).

I have to cash some checks tomorrow, so I'll see what my bank does. I wonder how often this happens? I doubt that I'll get to keep the money, I suppose I'd have to donate it to charity if they don't want it.

Update 2/4/08: Here's what happens:

  1. Claims of ATM underpayment are not unusual.
  2. Claims of ATM overpayment are, unsurprisingly, unusual.
  3. The bank investigates then corrects with an additional debit.
  4. There's a presumption the customer is being honest when they claim an overpayment. I suspect that varies by age, ethnicity, race, dress and appearance when one claims underpayment.


alanbooker said...

I would think that technically the extra dough is yours unless you have a moral compulsion to return it!

I would want to do that just to observe the process as it unfolds.

Customer Service says. . . need to speak to the manager.
Manager says. . . of course the extra money is ours, what would you be thinking! It came out of our machine!


John Gordon said...

I suspect legally it belongs to the bank based on dim recollection of similar precedents over the years. I think it has something to do with contract law.

Of course for this amount I'm sure the banks don't bother going after anyone who gets overpaid. Hard to prove, after all.

I returned it for four reasons, but any would have sufficed by itself.

One was my children were watching, and they expect me to return it.

Two that I prefer to be honest when it's affordable.

Third that I was curious to see what happened.

Fourth that the person ahead of me was a black woman driving an old car. If she was short changed $60, but the machine balance was even, I wonder how she'd be treated. Now the bank knows the balance was off.