Last month, I deposited a check into my checking account. The bank teller accidentally put one too many zeros on the amount of the check, giving me a deposit of almost $10,000 instead of almost $1,000.
When I discovered the error the next day, I called the bank’s customer service number and reported it. I also reported the error to the branch manager, who assured me that it would be corrected in a couple of days. A month later, the money was still in my account, so I transferred it to my savings account so that I wouldn’t accidentally spend it.
I have nothing against the bank reclaiming the extra money; it is theirs, and I only have it because of an accident. Moreover, if the situation were reversed, I’d want the money returned.
However, I have made an earnest attempt to get the bank to take their money back, so I was wondering if at any point or time the money would become legally mine.
You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at email@example.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.
Your effort to return the money was earnest, but was it thorough? If the end result was moving the $9,000 to your savings account for safekeeping, then I’m afraid it’s hard to argue the latter. Would you have left the bank if the money had come out of your bank account in error instead of being deposited into it? Return to your branch, and don’t leave until they have withdrawn the money.
Even if your attempt was earnest, your question about how long the money can stay in your account before you keep it is less diligent. There have been rare occasions of “unjust enrichment” when the recipient of funds sent in error was allowed to keep the money because the person was owed money by the lender, but I don’t see how you can justify this case falling into that category.
You are correct not to spend this money. In 2015, an 18-year-old man was sentenced to 10 years of probation for spending $31,000 erroneously deposited in his account, and was ordered by the court to pay restitution to a 70-year-old victim who shared his name and whose account was the intended recipient of the funds. He’s not the only one.
There are statutes of limitations on certain crimes and personal debts that vary by state, but no crime has been committed here, and you have not broken a contract with the bank over money owed. These funds belong to the bank, so you would have a very difficult time persuading a judge that a statute of limitations applies here.
In fact, you would likely need $10,000 for the court bills. While you imagine what you could do with all that lolly — and there’s nothing wrong with daydreaming once in a while — send a letter to the address on your bank statement by first-class or, better yet, certified mail for proof of sending and receipt, and maintain a copy of it.
By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch. By submitting your story to Dow Jones & Company, the publisher of MarketWatch, you understand and agree that we may use your story, or versions of it, in all media and platforms, including via third parties.
Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.
The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.
More from Quentin Fottrell:
• ‘I just don’t trust my sister’: How do I gift money to my nieces without their mother having access to it?• We’re getting married and have a baby on the way. My wife has offered to pay off my $10,000 student debt and $7,500 car loan• I have three children. I quitclaimed my house to my most responsible son. Now he has blocked my calls• My brother-in-law died, leaving his house in a mess. His landlord wants me to repaint and replace the carpet. What should we do?