This is a really weird situation. A guy contacted me regarding a business I have. He offered far in excess of my stated fees and even told me he could help me financially if I needed it, which I do. He said he was a doctor. Before he even showed up, he gave me his bank account and routing number and full name, which I used to pay some utility bills. All the payments went through. He also sent me $2500 through PayPal, and I received an email that I had received the payment, though it's been 24 hours and it still hasn't shown up in my "recent activity" in my account. But at the time when I met him, I had no reason to doubt the whole thing was real.

So we met, and through conversation he seemed totally legit. Halfway through our session, he abruptly left — he claimed he was being called in to the hospital. He had already received some, but not all, of the services we had agreed to. He said he would come back in a few hours. Oh yeah, and since the PayPal funds hadn't gone through yet, and I needed cash to pay rent, he said his "financial advisor" would be wiring me $800 a couple hours later. Well, I never heard back from him and never got a call about a wire transfer. In retrospect it all seems very obviously a scam, except for the fact that he gave me a bank account number that actually worked as far as paying some bills!

My question is, assuming the PayPal payment never goes through — I never got an email saying that it was cancelled, but it isn't showing up in my payments either. I'm planning on calling PayPal if it hasn't gone through by tomorrow. But assuming that payment doesn't go through, how can I use the bank account info to get the payment he promised me as far as the services I provided? Other than paying all my utilities in advance? You'd think with an account number and routing number and full name, I would be able to withdraw money somehow, but I really have no idea how. And since it isn't under my name, I can't make a payment on my student loans. I wouldn't take more than he owed me, but it would really be nice to at least get that, even if I didn't get the $2500 he had promised me.

You always hear about not letting people see your account number and stuff like that, but it seems impossible to do anything with this info even though I have it! If scamming people with their bank account number is so easy, how do scammers do it? So I'm wondering two things:

  1. What legal way can I take what I am owed from this guy?
  2. What illegal way do people use this info if they had it? I don't want to get in trouble, but I'm just curious because you always hear how easy it is.

(Oh, and I never actually saw his ID so I don't know that the name & bank info he gave me was actually his, he could have stolen it from someone, though he really didn't seem like a hacker — he was a middle aged black man who was very smart-sounding, polite, soft spoken, and he seemed to have a lot of knowledge that a real doctor would have. I have a college degree and am very skeptical in general and careful about not being scammed and I've never had an experience even close to this, and the whole time I kept thinking "is this guy for real?" but since the utility stuff had gone through, it seemed legit. And nothing he did sent up a red flag like he might be a criminal or something. But later I googled the name and couldn't find a doctor by that name, at least not in the state he said he lives in. And since he said he would be contacting me last night, and he never did, it seems obvious that he planned the whole thing, but it just makes no sense to me.)

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    This sounds like he was working some kind of confidence game, but halfway through your session he realized that it wasn't going to work on you, so he cut his losses and bailed before wasting any more time. Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 3:00
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    I think that: questions involving this detailed level of illegal activity, on all sides, are just totally inappropriate for this site. Note that however you look at it, the question is simply asking "Hey, should I commit crime X?"
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 12:04
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    @JimmyJames - No. NO. NO!! Never contact the police. Never speak to the police. Never go to the police in the expectation that your speaking to them can forestall an arrest. If you're worried about the police, speak to a lawyer.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 23:03
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    @JonathanReez The US via ACH for one. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 9:37
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    "You'd think with an account number and routing number and full name, I would be able to withdraw money somehow, but I really have no idea how." These three things are printed on checks, which, from a security point of view, makes them public information. If that were enough to make a transfer from that account, the banking system would have collapsed from fraud decades ago.
    – sdenham
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 13:03

7 Answers 7


You're potentially in very deep water here.

  1. You don't know who this person is that you're dealing with. Before you'd even met him, he just gave you his banking info, seemingly without a second thought.

  2. You have no idea what the sources of his money are, so what happens if the money is stolen or otherwise illegal? If it is determined that you used any of that money, you'll be on the hook to return it, at the very least. Who knows what the legal ramifications are either?

  3. So it sounds like you began spending his money before you had any kind of written agreement in place? Doesn't that seem odd to you to have someone just so trusting as to not even ask for that?

  4. Was the source of the email about the $2500 from PayPal, or from him or his advisor? PayPal always sends you a notice directly when funds are received into your account, and even if they were going to put a temporary hold on them for whatever reason (sometimes they do that), it would still show up in your account.

I would HIGHLY (can I be more emphatic?) advise you not to go anywhere NEAR his bank account until or unless you can absolutely verify who he is, where his money comes from, and what the situation is.

If you start dipping into his account, whether you think you're somehow entitled to the money or not, he could cry foul and have you arrested for theft.

This is a very odd situation, and for someone who says he's normally cautious and skeptical, you sure let your guard down here when you started spending his money without making any serious effort to confirm his bona fides.

Just because he passes himself off as smart and the "doctor type" doesn't mean squat. The very best scammers can do that (ever see the movie "Catch Me If You Can", based on a true story?), so you have no basis for knowing he's anything at all.

I am thoroughly confused as to why you'd just willfully start using his money without knowing anything about him. That's deeply disconcerting, because you've opened yourself up to a world of potential criminal and civil liability if this situation goes south.

If this guy was giving you money as an investment in your business and you instead used some of that money for your own personal expenses then you could land in very serious trouble for co-mingling of funds. Even if he told you it was okay, it doesn't sound like there's anything in writing, so he could just as easily deny giving you permission to use the money that way and have you charged with embezzlement.

You need to step back, take a deep breath, stop using his money, and contact a lawyer for advice. Every attorney will give you a free consultation, and you need to protect yourself here.

Be careful, my friend. If this makes you suspicious then you need to listen to that voice in your head and find a way to get out of this situation.

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    @redriver pleae verify on paypal.com. Emails are easy to forge.
    – djechlin
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 20:13
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    Chances are the bank account doesn't belong to the person. Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 20:28
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    @LorenPechtel - Indeed. The likelihood here is that there's a third person involved who doesn't know that their paypal account is being used. In the meantime, OP is using money from account A to pay for "services" accepted by person B. If the police get involved, there's a strong possibility that they'll assume the OP was working on his own and that person B doesn't exist.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 21:04
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    Police. Give them all the details and let them pursue it. Anything you try to do on your own is likely to just get you into trouble. The law does not accept revenge as reason to commit a crime. If you believe otherwise, talk to a lawyer.
    – keshlam
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 21:26
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    "specifically told me" - and he will deny having told it to you, as there is nothing in writing, no witnesses, nor recording.
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:11

TL;DR - Do not attempt to take money from someone's bank account based on a verbal agreement, even if you feel you're entitled to it.

OK, reading between the lines here it looks like the services offered by your company are of an "adult" (possibly illegal?) nature and that this individual has actually paid you in full for the services rendered up to this point.

The wrinkle here is that you say that you've been offered large cash "gifts" in return for unspecified future favours, but that your client hasn't provided a real Paypal account to do so. When you pressed him on it, he sent a fake email and invented a "financial adviser" to fob you off, then hasn't contacted you since. It's pretty clear that he hasn't got any intention of making these payments to you.

What you're now proposing to do is to use his known banking details to collect money to cover those verbal promises. In pretty much every part of the world, that's a crime. Without a written agreement to use that payment method for those promises, he could easily call the police and have you arrested for theft of funds.

The further wrinkle is that his actions (claiming to have made payment via paypal, forged email headers, etc) strongly suggest that this individual is involved in cyber-crime and may well have used a fake bank account to pay for your initial services.

The bottom line here is that you need real legal advice, from an actual lawyer.

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    @AkashAggarwal - Indeed, and since what the OP is suggesting is a crime, I thought it would be better to start with a nice bold statement advising them not to do so.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 21:51
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    @DanNeely - OP's statement that we'd understand better if we knew what her business was, and that it's not unusual for clients to give gifts to be used for personal expenses is extremely illuminating.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:00
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    @DanielAnderson - "Hi Bank, I've accepted money for unspecified services that I can't prove and that might be illegal, can you please confirm where the cash has come from? Yes, I'll hold while you call the police."
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 22:10
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    @DanielAnderson - What you're potentially missing here is that OP is a little shy of explaining what they do because they're probably doing something illegal. You can hardly go around claiming to have been scammed.
    – Valorum
    Commented Nov 6, 2016 at 23:02
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    I just want to say that, as a reader, it sucks that Daniel Anderson's comment was removed, but not the rest of the comments written in response. I'm tempted to flag the whole thing as "obsolete", which is sad because this is an otherwise interesting conversation. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 1:32

What legal way can I take what I am owed from this guy?

The legal ways are for this guy to transfer you the money or give you instructions that will allow you to get the money.

Alternatively you would need to file a civil suite to recover the funds.

What illegal way do people use this info if they had it? I don't want to get in trouble, but I'm just curious because you always hear how easy it is.

There are quite a few illegal ways. I don't think this is the right forum to discuss this.


As long as there is nothing more to this story you aren't sharing, you can expect those bills you paid to come back (you will have to pay them again later). You can be pretty certain that the name he gave you was fake, and that the bank account you paid your bills with was not his. I would not try to do anything at all with the information he gave you because first it is not his, and second your name is already tied to this bank account via your utility bills. In other words that would be illegal and you are already on the list of suspects.

I would say that if you don't call the police they probably won't call you. The police often times do not even waste their time when somebody's light bill was paid with fraudulent financial information or whatever. I have actually seen similar situations play out a number of times and the police have never gotten involved. Disclaimer: I probably don't live where you live, and I'm not an attorney.

But I do know what I am talking about so here's my advice (I know you didn't ask for advice but you probably might benefit from it). Let that money go, sometimes people get you. Take it as a lesson and move on.

If you do end up having to have contact with the police and you don't already know, they will lie to you and try to trick you into acting in a way that is not in your self interest. But then you kind of look guilty if you won't even talk to them, and in this case you did not do anything illegal. So if I was you I would probably just think of where I might be incriminating myself by telling the truth, if there were any parts of my story that would raise any flags, and think of how I would smooth those out ahead of time.

Also for your personal information you do not need to have a sophisticated understanding of computers to do anything you described, if you are familiar with operating a web browser you can do all types of stuff with Paypal. Most people that give off the vibe "criminal" are not going to be able to make any money conning people and would probably have given it up before they got to you. The information you have is not like the most valuable stuff ever but somebody that knew what they were doing could use it to take money out of your account, and if they had that and then could get a few other pieces they could really mess up your life. So that's part of why they say to be careful, any one piece is maybe not so valuable but if you are loose with everything you will probably have a shitty few weeks at some points in the future. "no aa" lol

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    "I do know what I am talking about" can we get a little more info?
    – user22731
    Commented Nov 7, 2016 at 13:35
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    +1 for "You can be pretty certain that the name he gave you was fake, and that the bank account you paid your bills with was not his". Sounds like basically some guy obtained someone else's bank account number, and used it to gain this person's confidence then get free services. Paypal payment was probably also from someone else's account, who will dispute it and have it refunded. Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 11:39

You're not focusing in the right place and neither is anyone else on this thread because this isn't about the guy owning you money... This is about you not having enough money to pay your rent. If rent wasn't due and the utility bills weren't piling up, you wouldn't be trying to justify taking money out of someone else's account.

So let's triage this. Your #1 problem isn't hunting down Dr. Deadbeat's wallet. So put a pin in that for now and get to the real deal. Getting rent paid. Right?

OK, you said he called "regarding a business I have". It's great that you have your own business. Are you also employed elsewhere? If you are, then you really should simply go to your employer and tell them you are in financial distress. Tell them that right now you can't cover your rent or bills and you want to know if they can help, i.e. give you an advance from your paycheck, do a withdrawal/loan from a retirement savings that's in your employee benefits package, etc... They will HELP YOU because it's in their best interest as much as it is in yours.

Foregoing that, consider these thoughts...

If you were to go your grandparents telling them what you told all of us here, and ask them the same "do you think it's ok to...", they would say something close to "Absolutely DO NOT touch someone else bank account EVER! It doesn't matter what information you have, how you got it, or what you think they owe you. Do NOT touch it. There's a legal system that will help you get it from them if they truly do owe it to you."

I guarantee you this, withdrawing funds from an account on which you are NOT an authorized signatory is both financial theft as well as identity theft. Bonus if you do it on a computer, because you'd then be facing criminal charges that go beyond your specific legal district, i.e. you'd face criminal charges on a national level.

If convicted, odds are you'd be sentenced within the penal guidelines of the Netherlands 1983 Financial Penalties Act (FPA). Ergo, you would have much much much less money in the very near future, which would feel like an eternal walk through the Hell of the court system. Ultimately, over your lifetime you would be exponentially poorer than you may think you are now. I strongly urge you to rebrand this "financial loss" as "Tuition at the School of Hard Knocks".

There's one last thing... the train jumps the tracks for me during your story...
This guy called you? Right?... (raised eyebrow) What kind of business do you "have"? The sense of desperation and naiveté in your urgent need for money to pay rent. The fact that you are accepting payment for services by conducting a bank transfer specifically from your clients account directly toward your own utility bills is a big red flag. Bypassing business accounting and using revenue for personal finances isn't legitimate business practices. Plus you are doing it by using the bank information of brand new client who is a TOTAL stranger. Now consider fact that this total stranger was so exceedingly generous to someone from whom he wanted personal services to be rendered. Those all tell me that he's doing something he wants the other person to do for him and he doesn't want anyone else to know. The fact that he's being so benevolent like a 'sugar daddy' tells me that he feels guilty for having someone do what he's asking them to do. Perceived financial superiority is the smoothest of smooth power tools that predators and abusers have in their bag. For instance, an outlandish financial promise is probably the easiest way to target someone who is vulnerable; and then seduce them into being their victim. Redirecting your focus on how much better life will be once your problem is solved by this cash rather than focusing on the fact that they're taking advantage of you. Offering to pay rates that are dramatically excessive is a way of buying a clean conscious, because he's doing something that will "rescue you" from a crisis. The final nail in the coffin for me was that he left so abruptly and your implied instinct suggesting his reason was a lie. It sounds like he got scared or ashamed of his actions and ran out. It paints a picture that this was sex-for-money

  1. Go to your employer (if applicable) and tell them you need help financially.
  2. Google that guys name. I bet you can even search the government medical licensing agency to find if he is a doctor.
  3. Go to the police. I bet you can file a report online without talking to anyone. (The reason why you want to do this is because you will be minimizing anything bad happening to you if the money you took from the accounts for utilities was NOT his money either. You want to do that before ANYTHING negative happens.)
  4. DO NOTHING with that bank information, unless it's destroying it.

Good luck to you.

  • Yep, i just reposted having edited him out entirely.
    – JBirdie
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 11:33
  • My apologies, Dennis.
    – JBirdie
    Commented Nov 8, 2016 at 11:33

I realize this is an old question but... This guy gave you stolen bank account information. You are implicated, because basically, no DA or juror is going to believe you are dumb enough to think this is ok and normal.

When the true account holder gets wise, he is going to reverse every charge. Which means to start with, you will have the normal consequences of all those bills being unpaid, and also, bounced check charges from each utility. We're going to fix that.

What's more, when the true account holder finds debits from his accounts, he'll blow things up with his bank and call the cops. However, he will not do that, if all the charges were reversed before he finds them. So that is the thing to do.

First, reverse all those charges

For every charge you made against this account, you are going to have to reverse it. This will mean calling up each utility and begging and wheedling that they reverse the charge because of your mistake. Now, they will resist that because your utility bill is still due and if reversed, will then be late and unpaid. You will need to pay them the same amount with your own legit money simultaneous to asking them to reverse the charge. Then, your bill will not be late, and it should prevent any bounced check or late fees.

If that means getting a paycheck advance and paying a fortune, then so be it. It sure beats talking to cops.

Mind you, you still may have to talk to cops, but now your story is "I reversed the charges willingly, the moment I doubted the legitimacy of the arrangement". If that's a done deal before the cops talk to you, that means you get to claim honest error, and they pretty much can't get a jury to convict.

Whereas, if you reverse the charges after the cops talk to you, then your story is "Gosh, I had no idea, I'll reverse them now" which is not believable. It has the appearance that you only reversed out of fear of the cops: guilty mind.

Second: stop doing business with the guy

This guy is a scammer working a confidence game. Once you had gained some confidence in him, he would've pulled one of several scams, probably a fake check scam or a very similar scam where they pay you good money, you pay them good money, then their payment to you reverses because it's from a stolen account. see also money laundering, sending you illegitimate funds while you send good funds, and the FBI follows the money to you.

Third: Clean up your business practices

Having a business customer pay your utility bills, are you kidding me? No legitimate business does that. The right way is this:

  • All raw business receipts come into your business's checking account, which is a separate checking account used only for the business. It may be a business account in name only, even the bank doesn't need to know, but you need to know, and you need to be sterile about keeping funds separated.
  • Pay business expenses from that business account.
  • When taking out profits (as often as you please), you transfer funds from the business account to your personal account, and you call that profit-taking.
  • Pay personal expenses from the personal account.

So in this arrangement, your customer pays you for services rendered. The payment goes into the business account. An hour later you transfer the funds into your personal account and pay your bills. That's how you do that thing. And this arrangement protects you from herky-jerky deals like this one, which makes you look super guilty. If you had done that, oneillicit payment would have gone into his biz account, and when the cops come knockin, well, you were unexpectedly paid for services with fake money, and that story is credible because you had clear separation between personal and business.

This type of business formality is the tip of the iceberg, so if you want to go anywhere in business, get used to it.


A routing number and account number are on the bottom of every check. If anybody who ever handled your checks or even saw your checks could just withdraw as much money as they wanted, the whole banking system would need to be reworked.

In short, just having that info is not enough. Not legally.

  • Legally no. Illegally, yes. You can get checks printed with the same routing number/account number as a check you've seen and just write checks with that information. It really is that easy. In other words.... don't give your bank information out to anyone who doesn't really need it.
    – xyious
    Commented Feb 15, 2018 at 18:29
  • About 20 years ago somebody paid their auto insurance using my checking details. This caused 5 checks of mine to bounce. The bank (defunct) was completely unsympathetic, saying either that it was my auto insurance (I did not have a car) or I authorized this by oh-so-carelessly sharing my account numbers. I pointed out They are on the bottom of every check. Bankers seem to think muggles can't read MICR... Commented Dec 27, 2018 at 0:50

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