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Bank error in your favor

The bank credits your account for $1,000 more than you deposited. For once you've pulled that sweet Monopoly card in real life, "Bank error in your favor." Ka-ching!

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Despite the overwhelming justification for why the universe owes you this money, it's as untouchable as a spanking-new sports car with the keys in the ignition and the doors wide open. Give in to temptation and you could find yourself going straight to jail -- or at least being threatened with jail if you don't want to part with the ill-gotten gains.

Windfall or hassle?
According to the district attorney's office in Walworth County, Wis., a man was charged with theft when a check for more than $49,000 was accidentally deposited into his account at Fifth Third Bank. "He was having financial difficulties so he spent it," Walworth County district attorney Phillip Koss says. "When the bank asked for it back, he put them off. But when he was charged with theft he came up with the money."

Besides having to cough up the misappropriated funds, he also paid a $500 fine.

Mistakes will always happen. "Due to the sheer volume of transactions that go through here every day, it does happen that sometimes mistakes are made -- sometimes 'unjust enrichment' as it's called, or overcredits. But, undercredits can happen as well," says Stephanie Honan, a spokeswoman for Fifth Third Bank.

"We generally find out about them through our internal checks and balances, or the customer brings it to our attention. After that, we work with them directly to correct the account. In the case of undercredits we pay any fees they may have incurred due to the oversight."

In most cases, bank errors don't lead to arrests, merely hassles and headaches.

In the case of Gloria Pedroza, the mistakes led to her finding a new bank. "Errors were made about every other month," she says. "There were at least three cash deposits that weren't credited and one that was overcredited." Luckily, the bank recognized the mistakes and credited her account for the fees from bounced checks written against the lost deposits.

The overcredit was the last straw for Pedroza. "I deposited money and my account was credited double the amount of the deposit," she says. "I called the bank to correct it, the person on the phone told me not to use those funds because they were not mine."

"Duh! That's why I called. And then it took the bank almost four business days to correct it. It was a nightmare, and I was paying for this service," says Pedroza.

File this under 'don't hold your breath'
Once in a blue moon, banks make a mistake and, due to some inexplicable shift in the universe, let the customer walk off a little bit richer. Such was the case for Thomas Grosch.

Back in the late 1950s, well before automation, Grosch opened an account at a well-known national bank, at a Sacramento branch. "This was only in case I needed lunch money when temporarily working in that city," he says.

When he returned to withdraw $20, the account had doubled in size. "I pointed this out to clerk at bank window. She checked and claimed all was in order," Grosch says.

"A few months went by and, I returned to bank. The small account had grown by 300 percent. The teller insisted all was in order; hence I spoke with the branch manager who also said my account was without error.

"When the account got to $3,000, the manager told me that if it happened again I should close the account and pay for our lunch.

"Again, I returned to the branch and there was almost $9,000 in my account. We had a grand lunch. The bank manager continued to insist there was no bank error and he had thoroughly researched the account. He believed I was entering cash into my account."

Grosch closed the account, pocketed the money and lived happily ever after, until he received a phone call a few years later. "It was the bank branch manager who was retiring," Grosch says. "He told me that an elderly fellow with the same name as mine had passed away a week previous. He had died at 99 years of age. The banker assumed that this was the person entering money to my account."

At the end of the conversation, the manager told Grosch not to worry about the money. He had conferred with the man's beneficiary who was pleased with what she inherited. The inadvertent mix-up even led to a meeting between Grosch and the deceased's beneficiary to discuss the strange coincidence.

 
 
Next: "... more have lost money in disputed transactions"
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