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I have seen many questions like:

I received $1000 and was asked to send it back. How was this scam meant to work?

Scam or Real: A woman from Facebook apparently needs my bank account to send money

My question is: what happens if you receive this money (without doing anything or giving your bank account number) but do not do anything scammer wants?

I especially want to know about what happens with the money you got and possible legal consequences.

  • Is it considered yours because scammer transfered it to you?
  • Do you have to return it? If yes, to whom and in what form?
  • And finally, how is it that scammers are just sending money to random people? Aren't they scared that someone will simply not return it? I understand that this may be stolen money, but it surely took some effort (cash/time) to "acquire" it, so why are they just sending it away?
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    In a successful scam the scammer cancels the transaction and gets the sent money back (+ earns whatever the victim sends them). If the target doesn't take the bait, they still cancel the transaction and get the money back. It's unclear why the scammer didn't do it in the first question you linked to; it's possible that they waited too long to cancel and couldn't do it anymore. – Moyli Aug 4 '16 at 16:22
  • yes, and then what? assume, that they cannot revert it (because they are in jail or something) - what happens with money? what happens, if You (possibly unintentionally) wire this money and later scammer asks for revert? there is no money on Your account to revert - what happens? – spam Aug 4 '16 at 16:33
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    This sounds more like a question for law.stackexchange.com – BobbyScon Aug 4 '16 at 16:53
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    In general: No, that isn't your money, no matter who put it in or why. There is no free lunch. The reason the OP of the first link might have gotten it is because the scammer made a mistake, which cost someone, the scammer in this case. Don't go hoping someone tries to scam you and you get some free money. – kirkpatt Aug 4 '16 at 22:12
  • Often they will have a buyer to pay into your account instead of theirs. When the former doesn't receive the goods will call the police which will get to you (through the bank account) instead of the scammer. The scammer won't lose any money. – algiogia Aug 6 '18 at 16:04
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The victim never actually receives the money, so that is not an option.

The scammer generates the transaction using a fraudulent check. Once the check is found to be fraudulent the chain of involved banks claw the money back (which is the bank's money, not the scammer's).

So, what happens is the victim sees a deposit in their account, but it is not real, it is a conditional deposit by the bank made on the assumption that the payment is good (which it is not). When the victim endorses a check, they are guaranteeing to the bank that they consider the check good and vouching for the check. That is why the bank credits the victim's account, because the victim has vouched for the check. When the check later turns out to be fraudulent, the victim owes the bank money.

In theory, people who endorse a fraudulent check could be criminally prosecuted, but that does not happen normally.

  • All right, however as a victim I never even see this check and it is not against law to withdraw money from my own account, that just happened to be credited by someone, right? Also, what happens, if bank won't find out, that check is invalid (is it ever possible)? – spam Aug 4 '16 at 18:57
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    @spam Technically speaking, just receiving criminal proceeds into your account is a crime, although normally an unknowing recipient is not prosecuted. If you withdraw the money, then the bank will debit your account and you will have a negative balance after the forgery is revealed. If the forgery is successful and the bank never finds out (eg the forgery is on a real account holder who never notices), then nothing will happen. The recipient will just keep the money. Note that this is crime, however, because are participating in forgery. – Five Bagger Aug 4 '16 at 19:10
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    @spam Normally if you get a suspicious deposit, the best thing to do is to inform the bank and they will take care of it. Banks have very sophisticated mechanisms for dealing with fraud. – Five Bagger Aug 4 '16 at 19:37
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    Most countries it is against the law to take money that doesn't belong to you, no matter where it is - on the street, in your account, or in your pocket. It will be hard to convincingly argue that you didn't realize that strange deposit wasn't yours, unless you want to declare yourself a moron; and even if you can argue convincingly, you just get out of punishment - you always have to give it back. – Aganju Aug 4 '16 at 21:07
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    The case of Susan Madakor is relevant. Transfers to a UN account got garbled (a leading zero in the account number was dropped in transit) and the money wound up in her account. She kept it, spent it, and went to jail... – DJohnM Aug 4 '16 at 22:24
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Why would you ask "is the money yours", when you know it isn't?

When we were young children we were told "two wrongs don't make a right".

As an adult we know that breaking the law "to get back at" someone we perceive as breaking the law is illegal. In sports and in real life, the retaliator often receives a worse punishment than the initial rule violator.

In the case mentioned, the second part of the "scam" would proceed if you participated or not. The person would go to their bank and indicate a mistaken deposit and have such refunded to their account. By the correct amount yours would be debited. Woe to the person that spent this money prior to the debit.

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    I was asking about specific situation, when You are passive to such scam. If we assume, that it is Your responsibility to get rid of this money, then we have just discovered great way to annoy our best enemy - just send him lots and lots of $1 transfers, and make him waste his time! If scammer will go to bank and revert transfer - thats totally ok - You did not waste Your time. But what if scammer won't try to revert it? – spam Aug 4 '16 at 16:24
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    @spam Then the money would be yours. wiring someone money is like mailing something to a person. By doing so you legally give up ownership, unless the recipient is a fraud, but in this case you aren't, so it would be your money (when the transaction is posted) – tuskiomi Aug 4 '16 at 16:27
  • well, Pete just assumed, that it is not and it will be easily reverted. that would end this story, but what if after ex. 1 year it still has been not reverted? can You legally use this money? what if You spend it and then scammer will try to revert it? there is no money to revert – spam Aug 4 '16 at 16:36
  • When we were young children we were told "two wrongs don't make a right". is this based on legal knowledge or opinions? I think he is asking legally here what is he liable for? – Frank Visaggio Aug 4 '16 at 17:44
  • @FrankVisaggio The "wrongs" here are "things that are obviously illegal", so legally speaking we can say that it's obviously illegal. The saying itself isn't a legal principle but you can't ignore the context. – Matthew Read Aug 8 '16 at 19:35
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When the wire is cancelled, your bank would pull cash out of your account. If you wired it elsewhere, your bank would cancel that wire and pull the cash from its destination. They only way to keep the money is to physically withdraw it from your account, at which point you're really fighting with your bank, not the scammer.

Your bank will close the account and attempt to collect. If you used fake info to open the account they will do what they can to pursue you for fraud. In the end you are just as guilty as the scammer of breaking laws. The only way to scam a scammer is to lead them on and waste their time so they can't spend that time scamming others. This assumes you don't value your own time and you can keep them from being productive.

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    I see. And what about people, that run for example online shops and get 10s of wire transfers per day and may not even notice such scam? I cannot imagine to be guilty in that case, even if I unintentionally withdraw such money. – spam Aug 4 '16 at 17:04
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    @spam You'd likely want a lawyer to argue that in court. – ceejayoz Aug 4 '16 at 17:43
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    @spam Anyone running a business should have an account of where the money came from, but that's not a topic for a personal finance site. – Nathan L Aug 4 '16 at 17:51

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