48

I'm used to scams where they ask you for moneygrams, but not the other way around.

I applied for an apartment Oct 7th, and moved in Nov 13th. When I tried to pay December's rent, I saw that my account with the apartment complex lists some 4.5k in un-applied rent credit, a little less than three times the monthly rent. According to the front office, that was comprised of 5 separate moneygram payments (four for 1k, one for ~$500) made for my apartment Nov 4th, I assume after the previous tenant had vacated. Those payments weren't listed when I first moved in. The front office told me not to worry about it, and suggested a grandparent or someone might have made those payments - not realizing that they had been made before the start of my lease (and unlikely regardless). I paid December's rent anyway.

The payments were by physical moneygram checks, so I assume they can't be rescinded, and also as far as I know wouldn't have been some automated system. They also were made to the apartment complex for my current apartment, not to me directly in any sense, so I'm assuming I don't have any reason to trust that they'll stay applied to my account. I imagine it's a mistake of some kind, rather than something nefarious, but I don't know.

I was given contact info for someone to escalate the issue to, but is there anything to be concerned about if they come back and tell me to treat it as simple good fortune?

Best case is some stranger wrote a check to a random address for a laugh, which is more than slightly doubtful. Worst case I can think of is I rely on the money and they later tell me, "yeah that was a mistake sorry, so now you're three months late on payments", and the person who accidentally wrote 'apt 1#' instead of 'apt 2#' on their check is out the likely meaningful sum of 4.5k.


Edit for closure: I checked in after a month and got no response, but after yet another month I finally heard back; the money had indeed been applied to the wrong account, and the issue was corrected.

  • 14
    Could it be that the previous tenant has an automated paying system that they didn't stop? – Tvde1 Dec 13 '19 at 9:10
  • 4
    Your profile says VA, US, so I'm adding the US tag. Please edit if that's not correct. – TTT Dec 13 '19 at 16:00
  • 2
    Absent the intention on the part of the giver to give a gift, it's not a gift. If it's an accident then you may have to wait six years (or whatever may be the statute of limitations of civil claims where you are). . . Your best course is to disavow the money, tell the landlord, the bank, everyone else, and most importantly yourself, that it isn't yours to dispose of. One way or another someone will come for this money. – Ben Dec 14 '19 at 17:54
79

I think your best course of action in this scenario is to act as though you don't have a credit on your account. Keep making your payments as you normally would. I would notify the management that you are doing this, as you are assuming that eventually someone will come asking for that money to be applied to a different apartment number. You may want to consider contacting your management company via email so there is a written record of the correspondence, just in case that would ever come in handy in the future. (Thanks to @dwizum for this good idea.)

As a side note, I would assume they could look for which apartment is behind by the amount of your credit, and it would be pretty easy for them to then figure out which apartment it was supposed to be applied to. In fact I'm shocked that they somehow believe it's more likely that someone paid your rent on your behalf without you knowing about it, rather than the obviously more likely scenario that someone simply wrote the wrong apartment number on their payment. Another question you could ask is if the previous tenant used the same method of payment and similar amounts prior to the ones you see. If yes, maybe the previous tenant had something automated setup (or someone making payments for them) that they did not cancel yet.

To answer your specific question, in the extremely unlikely (fall out of my chair in disbelief) case that this never gets resolved and you get to keep the money, you won't have any tax liability to worry about. It's just a gift.

| improve this answer | |
  • 14
    I agree it makes sense to act as if that money is not there, with the expectation that it will some day be removed because it was a mistake. The OP may even want to communicate with the apartment complex management via email, just so there's a written record. – dwizum Dec 12 '19 at 20:30
  • 1
    @dwizum - good idea. I updated to include it. – TTT Dec 12 '19 at 20:36
  • 2
    Thank you, especially for the qualifier on the likelihood of the money staying put. I'll wait the customary day before accepting. – HammerN'Songs Dec 12 '19 at 21:24
  • 5
    @Peteris - In the US, the receiver of a gift has no tax liability, regardless of size. (Even a million dollars.) The giver, however, would have to file a form if they gift a single (unmarried) person more than $15,000 in a single year. Once the giver gives more than approximately $11M (in excess of $15K per year to individuals) in their lifetime, then the giver has to pay taxes on the gift, unless the receiver elects to pay the tax instead. – TTT Dec 13 '19 at 16:16
  • 2
    @eagle275 - please see my comment to Peteris, as it applies to your comment too. In the US, the $10K rule that people speak of is typically about filling out a form for large cash transactions, but has nothing to do with taxes – TTT Dec 13 '19 at 16:17
38

If this is a scam, here's what I'd expect to have happen:

Someone will contact you and say "Oh my goodness! I accidentally applied three months of rent to your apartment instead of mine by physical check! This is terrible! I need the money back, or I can't make rent this month, but the complex won't return it to me! Could you write me a personal check for the money so I can make rent? It doesn't even have to be the full three months, just one month! You can keep the rest of it on credit, it'll be fine!"

If you do so (with or without involving the apartment complex), then you would write them a check or money-order and send them the cash. Then, a few weeks later, you'll notice that your balance with the apartment complex has fallen substantially. What happened? You go and ask the complex. They reply, "It seems that the money deposited previously was from a bad check. The bank took a few weeks to decline the check, but it did. The money has been removed from your account."

You go to find this person who accidentally paid three months of rent on your account, but they are gone in the wind. You've now given them a free month of rent out of your pocket, and they've paid you nothing despite convincing you otherwise.

I'd like to clarify that this is all an if. There's a chance that this was a legitimate accident like what you described. I would very much involve the complex in this, possibly the police just for your assurance, and if someone shows up and says that they accidentally put money into your account, demand that the apartment complex transfer the balance, and get a written record. Do not under any circumstances pay that individual out of your own pocket. If you do and it's a scam, you will be left holding the bag.

If the individual who contacts you lives at another property, I'd just ignore them. It's beyond the realm of possibility that they accidentally dropped their rent off in the wrong building managed by a different property company. That's definitely a scam.

editing per the comments below: Just don't give the individual money if you're approached. That needs to be resolved through the complex. There will be avenues for them to follow to get it back.

As an addendum: A friend's father fell victim to a semi-similar scheme. They found an extra 6.5K in his bank account that he shouldn't have had. Someone phoned him up and said that they were a new hire at a company he'd previously worked for, and that something had gone wrong with their system when he got set up. The father had received the new guy's signing bonus. Asked if he could just transfer the money back so that they didn't have to deal with all this bank transfer protocol stuff.

He transferred it back, and lo and behold-- the "extra" money vanished a little bit later. These scams will try to use social engineering sometimes by checking your linkedin or facebook account to try to find whatever details they can to seem more legitimate. Verify anything and everything independently before you send any money. There's no such thing as a free lunch, and the more I think about this, the more I'm convinced that you're going to have a scam artist come after you eventually.

| improve this answer | |
  • 14
    "If you feel that it's extenuating circumstances for some reason and that you really need to get this person their rent money," don't. If this is a legitimate error, the person who paid the rent into the wrong account needs to deal with the landlord, not the OP. – asgallant Dec 13 '19 at 17:17
  • 4
    I agree with @asgallant. The entity that received the erroneous payment is the one that should deal with repaying it, not a third party such as the OP. – Patricia Shanahan Dec 13 '19 at 17:21
  • Unfortunately for people with a sense of adventure, most cases of this kind of thing are just someone's mistake, not a brilliant scheme. But in those rare cases, well you have to admit that scheme is clever, if a bit flawed. I believe I would never send the money, as that amounts to a really obvious advance fee fraud - a genuine person would not need an uninvolved third party like OP to advance them money but would go through normal channels - like, to the landlord the payment actually went to - to get their money back. – acestar Dec 16 '19 at 1:27
  • @acestar it wouldn't be the first time we've seen people do something like this. It may seem like an obvious scam to us because we're used to seeing this sort of thing; if you tried it on someone who hasn't seen as many scam attempts, or who is more gullible and trusting by nature, I could see it working easily enough. – NegativeFriction Dec 16 '19 at 13:12
23

"I assume they can't be rescinded" Never assume that. The heart of many scams is "confusing you about what is reversible and what is not".

The vulnerability with a mailed "Western Union Moneygram" check is the complete lack of a chain of custody from WU to your landlord. Anybody could've dropped this into any mailbox. Scammers have been mailing fake cashier's checks for decades. They have tricky routing numbers rigged to take a very long time to bounce. Now they stamp Moneygram logos to play on your confidence with that brand.

You need to pay your rent on time.

The problem is, this weird, unexplained payment is very likely to boomerang at one point or another, sometime in the next year. After that, you can probably call it yours. In the meantime, pay your rent on time.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    I'd be hesitant to call it yours after any amount of time, as the case can very well still be made for you to have knowingly received funds not intended for you. Only after speaking to the authorities or a lawyer (if it's even worth it). The latter will be able to offer advice such as if there is any time limit in your jurisdiction for keeping funds mistakenly paid to you, and unlike the cops can be better relied on to act in your interest. – acestar Dec 16 '19 at 1:31
  • 1
    @acestar After some months, it becomes no longer possible to clawback through the banking system. At that point it must become litigation, and at the very least you have months of notice that it might be taken. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 16 '19 at 2:10
  • How can OP be sure how long that is though for a particular bank/system, and that banks won't manually honor a reversal after? – acestar Dec 16 '19 at 5:15
5

The first immediate thought I had is that yes, someone is somehow trying to scam you. Remember that scammers rely on two things 1) You not understanding how you could be scammed and 2) You ignoring the red flags in hopes it pays off for you, and this has all the hallmarks of it.

Of course it may also be legitimate. So how do we increase our maximum expected value in this scenario?

Well obviously, we can't trust the money. It could disappear at any time. If improper payments, they could disappear. If a scam, it could somehow be reversed. If it's legit, well, you prepared yourself for nothing. But how do you prepare?

You take the money you would have spent on rent until the credit is used up and you sock it away in something that gives you a reasonable, safe return, like an AAA bond or highly rated safe mutual fund. Something you can trade online in a few clicks and get your money back in a matter of hours or days as the need arises. You keep it there until you move out, or until a sufficient time has passed (perhaps 2 or 3 years) that you can safely assume it is no longer a threat. In that time, you've made a few hundred bucks for your trouble. Worst case scenario, someone loaned you 4500 bucks to make interest on while they clean up their mistake. Best case scenario? You somehow got free money added to your net worth and it's been earning some interest for you in the mean time.

In any event, you make sure you notify the front office right away that you are not sure where the funds came from, and you may end up being a victim of a scam, but who knows, it may be an early, anonymous Christmas present from a relative. However, if there is an issue (like it bouncing,) you are definitely willing to clear it up immediately via your normal payment method. If you're a regular paying tenant, they will very likely work with you on this.

| improve this answer | |
  • But if it was a mistake, you cannot legally use the money for the rent in the first place. If anything, you would end up owing that interest you earned! – user64742 Dec 15 '19 at 21:59
  • Good answer with everything I wanted to say, except for the last paragraph. OP already spoke with management and should probably refrain from causing unnecessary investigation. – Mars Dec 16 '19 at 0:35
  • 1
    @TheGreatDuck The management has already stated that there was not a mistake. I don't it would hold that OP has to pay back the original and interest. – Mars Dec 16 '19 at 0:38
  • 1
    The management saying that it is not a mistake does not mean that it was not a mistake - it could even be their mistake, or they could be victims too. It's no indication that someone won't come looking for the money one day in the future. – acestar Dec 16 '19 at 1:34
  • 1
    @acestar that's why corsiKa is suggesting making some return on it until that time that it is claimed. then you just pay the initial amount and get to keep the interest. – Aequitas Dec 16 '19 at 2:58
3

It could go either way: gift, mistake, or scam. You do need to be cautious and careful in case it is a mistake or scam; however, if it is a gift, whether from a friend you didn't expect to get it from or a random stranger, just make sure you don't push it away.

Contrary to what the other answers, and yourself, have implied: it is certainly not unreasonable that this money could be meant for you. Whatever actions you take, make sure you do not lose the possible gift by giving others every reason to take it away. If it does get taken away, make sure you find out why and fight to retain it if there is no justifiable reason for confiscating your credit.

Of course, take the precautions that others have said. Don't let yourself fall into a trap. But if this was a gift, don't throw it away.

I am used to the "pay it forward" mentality, and many of us try to keep it going. As such, I have both received and given anonymous gifts like this. Usually it is given in a way that the recipient at least knows that it was a gift, but not always.

Most of these "pay it forward" charitable actions are on the order of a few dollars or maybe $20 or $100. Some stranger gave me $3 recently that I didn't ask for. I've similarly randomly given $10 or $20 out to people. But larger gifts happen too, and I have been both the recipient and the donor of 4-digit gifts of this nature before.

I once went to a local vehicle repair shop when I had an extra grand and I used it to anonymously pay for someone else's repairs, but I told the mechanic I didn't want to be identified. The recipient later sent out a thanks on Facebook that got shared to a bunch of local people, and it was apparent that from her point of view it was just a random $1000 not too far off from your story. We were not friends, so she had no reason to know where it came from.

Another time I bought a vehicle, but when I got there to pick it up I was told "Someone has already paid $4000 toward this vehicle for you." That didn't cover the entire cost, so I still had to pay more, but I was not expecting this. This "pay-it-forward" gift I received is only $500 short of your scenario.

The biggest difference between these cases and yours is just that someone could at least confirm that it was a gift. Your only problem in that regard is that the person you talked to did not positively confirm that. But that doesn't mean it's not one.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    I don't see any reason to downvote this; it is a real (if unlikely) possibility. The answer would be improved if it said up front to handle scam and accident possibilities appropriately, then said also consider random gift possibility. – Bit Chaser Dec 13 '19 at 19:12
  • 1
    @banddrestoreMonica Good idea, done. Thank you. – Aaron Dec 13 '19 at 23:54
0

It may be a mistake, and in that case you should expect that money to suddenly disappear. So act as if the money wasn't in your account. In six years or so, if the money is still there, ask on law.stackexchange.com about the legal situation. It may be that after long enough time, the money becomes yours.

It may be a scam. If it is a scam, someone will ask you to send them money. If that happens, don't. If they say they send the money by mistake, then you tell them to sort that out with the appartment complex. You'd be willing to tell the people collecting rents that there is $4,500 in your account that you didn't pay, but that is all.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Why 6 years? I also thought along the same lines, but I can:t remember at all why 6... – Mars Dec 16 '19 at 0:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.