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I just withdrew £2800 from the bank. Looking at my online banking, there is only a withdrawal of £2000 listed. The form I signed said the amount I asked for, and the teller weighed the cash out on the scales to show the true amount, so my best guess is that she typoed it when entering it into the system.

Presumably this will be noticed at some point since the amount in the system is different to the form, but what are my obligations in the meantime? If I put the "missing" money in some sort of high yield account would I be able to keep any interest accrued? Should I inform the bank or let it slide until it is noticed? In the unlikely event that it's never flagged up, would not mentioning it be theft?


Update

I phoned internet banking yesterday as I couldn't find a direct number for the branch and couldn't make it back there before it closed. The helpdesk guy seemed a bit confused at me reporting an error in my favour, put me on hold and eventually came back to tell me he couldn't do anything from his end but would put a note on my account, and that I should tell the branch in person. I was also told that I was very honest and that I'd made his day as it would give him something to talk about.

Update 2 It's all worked itself out. There's a reversal of the £2000 transaction and a new withdrawal of £2800

  • 31
    "weighed the cash" ?? Were you withdrawing the cash in coins or one-pound notes and 2800 of them were too many to count? – Dilip Sarwate Apr 15 at 12:53
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    I would suggest informing the bank, else the teller might be in trouble perhaps even dismissed from her job for theft, when the discrepancy comes to light when her cash drawer doesn't match up. – Dilip Sarwate Apr 15 at 12:57
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    Another possibilitity is that it's gone through in two transactions, one for £2k and one for £800, and the second one just hasn't shown up yet. I'd give it a couple of days and then inform the bank if it still hasn't shown up. – Vicky Apr 15 at 13:57
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    @chepner There is a reason to wait, which is that as a rule of thumb it is annoying and time-consuming to get hold of the bank and specifically to talk to someone who can actually help rather than work through a script. If it shows up in your statement the meantime you've saved yourself the nuisance of trying to get through to them. – Vicky Apr 15 at 14:39
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    You know what else is annoying? Being held responsible for the missing £800 until my customer can be bothered to report the discrepancy. – chepner Apr 15 at 14:47
67

Technically, you have no obligations.

You asked for £2800 from your bank, satisfied your bank's requirements (ID, having the funds, whatever) and you were handed £2800. You never lied or misrepresented anything and always acted in good faith. You are not required to connect to your online banking to double check the teller's work.

Now, that does not mean that you have won £800. The bank will notice the mistake and will put quite some effort into solving it, not only because of the money but because they want to make clear that the money is always under control (otherwise some employees may begin having bad ideas).

An £800 mistake is unlikely to go unnoticed in a small transaction, and there are probably very few transactions each day comparable to yours, so by the time the bank closes its doors they will probably know what did happen.

They can correct the movement by themselves (either by modifying it or by adding a new withdrawal); perhaps they will inform you (I am betting they will say nothing, because it will not affect you and maybe you will not notice it and nobody likes recognizing mistakes).

In any case, do not try to outsmart a bank. I know of a case (in Spain) where the teller mistakenly wrote an absurdly high amount for a deposit and, when it was corrected, the customer tried to use the receipts to claim that he had indeed made such a high deposit. The bank sued the customer for fraud. Banks do have lawyers, and banks do not have sense of humour. For example, do not try to withdraw all of your money before the bank discovers the mistake, and if the bank calls you and asks about how much money you did withdraw, answer sincerely.

Of course, apart from the obligations, you could always call the bank office and tell them what did happen, as a nicety to them and to save them some extra work and let them know that the issue will be solved in a civilized way.

  • 80
    +1 for "Banks do have lawyers, and banks do not have sense of humour." It is odd how many people seem unclear on this, as if banks were not concerned above all with keeping careful track of money. – Spike0xff Apr 15 at 18:33
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    @Fattie They would correct the error in your account. For example if you asked to withdraw 2000 but they gave you 2800 by accident and didn't notice they would correct the error by subtracting the 800 you were given from your account. If your account was lacking the funds, you'd likely owe them the 800 whether or not you'd spent it already. – JustAnotherSoul Apr 15 at 20:06
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    @JustAnotherSoul: If you'd asked for 2000 and gotten 2800 by mistake, it's questionable whether they'd have evidence to establish that you were actually given 2800, and trying to claw it back could become a nasty fight. But since OP wrote 2800 on the form and received 2800, their case is pretty clear for the bank to just correct on the account. – R.. Apr 16 at 0:16
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    @awjlogan: (2) isn't really true if they're good at selecting which customers to do it to... :( – R.. Apr 16 at 12:33
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    Is there some legal precedent to support the assertion they have no obligations? Maybe the OP had not noticed the mistake that could be true; but now that they are aware it could be quite different. – DaveInCaz Apr 17 at 15:30
21

Do you want a legal opinion or a moral one?

Morally

You should notify them as soon as possible or else some poor employee is gonna have a really, really bad day/week/month/year.

Legally

You don't have to do anything until they question you about the transaction. However, once it comes to light then you had better be ready to either have an additional £800 withdrawn from your account or give them the £800 in cash. They may even freeze your account until the investigation is over.

  • 5
    I don't expect the employee will have a really, really bad day. It sounds like there's a signed paper copy of the withdrawal form. In that case, when they find the discrepancy between the teller's cash drawer and the records, they'll go through the paper forms, and when they find the typo, they'll fix it. – Mark Apr 15 at 22:07
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    I had a similar error with a similar amount (10 000 French Francs). The bank finally discovered the problem several months latter with the checks they do at the end of the year. They just fixed it, without any fees. I was in negative but I immediately did a transfer. So my advice: just tell them, it will be easier for everyone and you have only a very small chance to keep the 800. Also, 800 pounds interest in 8 month is only small change. – ch7kor Apr 16 at 9:52
16

You have an obligation to tell them. That's not just a moral obligation; it's also a legal one. This has been proven time and again in court cases and criminal prosecutions, particularly when a defendant finds a way to trigger a bank error in their favor, and triggers it repeatedly. However, you have done that.

Regardless, as the old joke goes, "Haha, don't worry about it... They'll find you!" The bank is sure to catch up with this error, because they collect data about their money. You will see a $800 debit applied to your account. If you call in to object, they will tell you there's an explanatory note to that effect.


It's not like the poor teller finds the cash drawer $800 short at the end of the day. It's not a simple cash drawer. The machine knows exactly when it dispensed what funds, and it won't take long to reconcile that against the transactions that came through the teller's terminal.

That leaves the question of whether the teller embezzled the $800 or gave it to you. That's why they have CCTV on teller desks. Did the teller hand you a stack, or count it out bill by bill? That's not just for you.

As for the question of whether you asked for the $2800 or the teller just slipped it to you as part of a conspiracy, that's settled by the deposit slip and the audio recordings.

This will come about about as favorably as it can for the teller; they are neither an embezzler nor a conspirator to it. They made a simple error, and that's the trade-off when you employ humans for their other considerable abilities. What will concern the bank management is whether their overall error rate is beyond the human norms. You can't discern this from one data point.

  • I think this is the most clear and most correct answer. Knowing that the bank made an error in your favor basically creates the obligation to tell them, and there's legal precedent supporting that. Further, the bank has a receipt of the intended transaction (the withdrawal slip showing the 2.8k versus the banking system which shows 2k). Even further still, many banks have automated reconciliation systems which will essentially balance receipts against the core system and will automatically flag this transaction as being the one that generated the discrepancy. – dwizum Apr 17 at 19:45
  • I like this answer, because the point goes beyond the legal obligation to tell them. You have it, obviously, but even if you didn't, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell to get away with it, so might as well correct it now. – Magisch Apr 18 at 7:29
  • You may be in obligation to tell them, but you are in no obligation to check your account before the monthly report arrives. – Vladimir F Apr 18 at 8:38
  • You sly devil @VladimirF :) You're right, the timing of notification only needs to be plausibly deniable. But I for one rarely check my monthly reports if my finger is on the pulse otherwise. – Harper Apr 18 at 15:14
5

As other answers mentioned, the bank will eventually find out and likely just withdraw the £800 from your accounts without notice.

Therefore, I would suggest that you make sure that you have >£800 balance in your account until this happens to avoid being charged any overage fees.

  • 3
    If a customer asks the bank how much money is in the account and is told an incorrect number because of the bank's mistake, and the customer acts upon a good faith belief that the number given was correct, the bank should not be allowed to profit from its mistake. On the other hand, a customer that notices a mistake could no longer act upon a good faith belief that the number had been correct. – supercat Apr 16 at 4:10
0

Let's have a go at answering the three questions posed in a factual manner.

If I put the "missing" money in some sort of high yield account would I be able to keep any interest accrued?

Yes - no problem with that.

Why?

Cash, indeed fiat money, is fungible - and I know that because I read fancy books on monetary theory!

There's no difference between "that" 800 and any other.

Should I inform the bank or let it slide until it is noticed?

I don't see that you have any obligation whatsoever to inform them, unless in your agreements with the bank, there's a clause saying that you should inform them in case of errors.

If there is no such clause in your contracts with the bank, then you simply have no obligation.

In the unlikely event that it's never flagged up, would not mentioning it be theft?

That is a very difficult legal question. (1) Jurisdiction? (2) You'd have to ask some real experts .. law.SE.

  • 1
    You could always put it in a high yield account with the same bank; the money would be there for them to reclaim as soon as they sorted it out, if it's in their account you're not trying to spend it (immediately at least), and in the meantime you're making a couple extra pence (which of course they're profiting from too -- banks don't pay interest out of the goodness of their hearts, they just give you a share of the proceeds). – Doktor J Apr 15 at 21:34
  • as per the tag, the jurisdiction is the UK – Jaloopa Apr 16 at 9:40
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    @Jaloopa There is no such jurisdiction as the UK. The laws in England and Wales have more in common with the laws in New York than the laws in Scotland. In England and Wales, the definition of theft is "A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it". "Not telling" the bank does not establish the intention of permanently depriving the bank (this is well established law). – Martin Bonner Apr 16 at 12:47

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