What Would You Do With a Billion Dollar Bank Error?

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Parijat SahaIt's a cliche that dates back to Monopoly: A bank error in your favor leaves you with an unexpected windfall. But for Parijat Saha, an Indian schoolteacher, the Community Chest card came to life in a big way when he discovered that his bank account suddenly held $9.8 billion.

"I was expecting an amount of a little more than 10,000 rupees ($200)," Saha told the BBC. The teacher, whose monthly salary is roughly $700, was stunned to find his account filled with a Buffett-level balance. He quickly notified bank officials, who subsequently announced that the huge sum was listed as "uncleared," which means that Saha couldn't have withdrawn it.

Saha's honesty is commendable, but it raises an interesting question: What should bank customers do when they find themselves the beneficiary of a bank error?

The other route, grabbing the money and hitting the road, can be alluring -- for awhile. In 2009, a New Zealand couple, Leo Gao and Kara Hurring, were surprised to discover that a bank error had left them with a $6.2 million overdraft account. The two quickly withdrew about $2.3 million and went on the lam. In 2011, Hurring voluntarily returned to New Zealand, and Gao was arrested a few months later. She's scheduled to go on trial in February and he is being held pending a bail hearing.

While among the most impressive accidental millionaires, Gao and Hurring are hardly the only people who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law after falling victim to the temptation to take advantage of a bank's blunder. In 2008, Pennsylvania couple Randy and Melissa Marie Pratt used a bank mistake to make off with $177,250. They were later apprehended in Florida, and ended up behind bars. Similarly, when Susan R. Madakor, a Brooklyn, N.Y., woman, spent part of a $701,998 windfall that mysteriously appeared in her Chase Manhattan account, she ended up doing two years in prison for bank larceny and bank fraud.

But bank error stories don't always end up quite so badly. In 2007, Harriet and Herbert Starbird, another Pennsylvania couple, spent about half of $280,276 that their bank erroneously deposited in Mr. Starbird's account. When the case came to court, they were forced to repay the money, but didn't end up doing time. While there are several reasons that Herbert Starbird got off relatively easily, the fact that he didn't try to flee and repeatedly tried to return the money likely factoring in heavily.

The moral is clear: if you see a mistake in your balance, contact your bank immediately. The statute of limitations on bank errors that benefit customers can vary from state-to-state, but most jurisdictions give banks several years to discover their mistakes and seek restitution. And, needless to say, customers who spend their ill-gotten gains will likely find themselves facing the wrath of hordes of well-paid bank lawyers.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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23 Comments

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John Bond

I would alert the bank immediately. Depending on the amount. If it was a considerably smaller amount, maybe in the thousands, I might keep it and assume it was from a loan or something. Hopefully I'll never have to make the decision though.
John Bond | http://dallmeyerlaw.com/why-dallmeyer

May 15 2014 at 2:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
George Puzo

I would probably have a moment of hesitation, but then make the error aware to the proper authorities. I could not agree with you more Manuel, honesty is an important trait. I have always tried to have an outstanding level of honesty in everything I do, especially with work.

George Puzo | http://perrydieterich.com/social-security-disability.html

April 17 2014 at 7:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Bill Stewart

How long do most of these mistakes go unnoticed? I hope I would be able to resist that temptation. That is a lot of money, but going to jail later wouldn't be worth it in my eyes.

Bill | http://www.yergertyler.com/lawyer-attorney-1540032.html

April 02 2014 at 8:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ron Johnson

It's amazing that the banks don't catch the mistake sooner. I think they should do more checks before they hand out hundred of thousands of dollars. I wonder what errors in the system make the mistake undetectable when they withdraw so much money at once.
Ron Johnson | http://www.ourchildrenshomestead.org/index.php/adoption/steps_to_domestic_adoption/

March 24 2014 at 11:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stacey Beck

This would be such a tough situation to be in. I have a lot of respect for the guy for being honest. Money can be tight and it would be amazing to look into your bank account and see that much money. I believe in karma though and think something good will happen to him.

http://www.gomezmaylaw.com/?page_id=8

March 19 2014 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Charlie McPoyle

I praise this man for his honesty and integrity. Not many people would tell the truth about having extra money in the bank. I am sure the bank would have found out eventually and then done the correction. http://www.harshmanmcbeelaw.com/Business-Law/

March 17 2014 at 6:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Celine Sanderson

Wouldn't that be such a horrible damper in your day?! Getting to the bank would be your best bet to retrieve all of the missing money. I can't imagine how you would feel after losing that much and not knowing how to get it back. Good luck to him!
Celine | http://www.mcmenaminlaw.com/how-we-help-you/

February 28 2014 at 3:54 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Celine Sanderson's comment
George Puzo

I have never considered that type of situation Celine. I probably would be storing more money at my home then in the bank afterwards. I hope I never have to experience something like this. Also kudos to him bringing the banks attention to their error.

George Puzo | http://www.seckarlaw.com/personal-injury/

May 06 2014 at 10:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cambria Rhay

If that ever happened to me, I definitely couldn't keep it a secret. I would go to the bank immediately and figure out what happened. It's crazy that the one couple went on the lam just to keep it. That kind of thing wouldn't be worth any amount of money for me.

Cambria Rhay | http://brineylawoffice.com/bankruptcy-law/

February 10 2014 at 4:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Maria Jose Tobar

If it were a billion dollars in my favor, I would definitely spend it all and travel the whole world. If I were in debt a billion dollars, I would fight that with everything I had because there'd be no way I could ever pay it off. I hope the former happens! http://allisontylerlaw.com/disability.html

February 06 2014 at 6:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mason.carr

That is an interesting dilemma indeed. I actually have no idea what I would do. I would be too nervous to spend it, and too clueless on how to invest it. However, it would be a wonderful burden to have!

Mason Carr | [Herbert E. Maxey Jr., P.C.](http://www.herbertmaxey.com/malpractice.html)

February 06 2014 at 11:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply