Steps to Take When Your Bank Makes a Mistake
- Banks are regulated by a bureau of the U.S. Department of Treasury. As such, strict rules protect you from errors that will cost you money.
- If a bank accidentally deposits money into your account that does not belong to you, spending it can land you in legal trouble.
Whether a mistake favors the bank or you, the first step is to make a report.
Even in this digital age, mistakes happen. But what about when a bank makes a mistake? What are you supposed to do? The answer depends on whether the error was in the bank's favor or yours.
How to handle simple banking errors
Let's say you use your debit card to buy pizza. The total comes to $30. The next time you sit down to look over your bank account, you realize that the bank mistakenly subtracted $30 from your account twice instead of once.
Dealing with mistakes that favor the bank tends to be simple. If you discover that the bank has failed to record a deposit or has overcharged your account, here are the steps to take:
- Remain cool. Mistakes are not uncommon, meaning banks have plenty of experience in making things right.
- Gather evidence. For example, find your deposit slip if a deposit is not showing up.
- Call or visit your bank (whichever is most comfortable for you) and present your case.
- Give the bank time to investigate.
- Follow up. For example, if the bank tells you that the problem will be taken care of by the next day, make sure it's done.
- If things aren't taken care of to your satisfaction, ask to speak with a branch manager or supervisor.
Remember: Banks are highly regulated by the OCC (Office of the Comptroller of the Currency), which is part of the U.S. Department of Treasury. The regulations that must be followed are strict and detailed and, ultimately, meant to protect customers. It's in a bank's best interest to ensure that each transaction is as close to perfect as possible. You can be sure that your issue will be dealt with as quickly and accurately as possible.
What happens if someone spends money meant for my account?
Let's say you sell a car for $7,500. You take the money to the bank and deposit it into your checking account. However, due to a clerical error, the money is deposited in someone else's account, and they spend it.
Once you notify the bank of the mistake, it must credit your account $7,500. The fact that someone else spent the money is between the bank, the customer, and the law. It wasn't your mistake, and it's not your problem to deal with.
What happens if I find a 'surprise' deposit?
Imagine that you visit an ATM to withdraw $100, but first, you want to see your current balance. To your surprise, you find an extra $50,000 in the account. How should you handle a situation like this?
The first thing to know is that you're not entitled to keep any of the money. Do not withdraw or spend any of the "found" funds. Unless you made the deposit (or someone else made it on your behalf), the money belongs to the bank. It was probably supposed to go into another customer's account, but a teller incorrectly typed the account number in.
If you find extra money in your account that does not belong to you, here's what you should do:
- As mentioned, do not spend the money. Doing so is sure to land you in legal trouble.
- Whether the bank is online or brick and mortar, make a call to let them know what happened.
- If you go into a branch, take evidence with you. For example, an ATM receipt showing your balance will do the trick.
- Again, give the bank time to investigate the issue.
Likely, the customer who was supposed to receive the deposit has already reported the issue to the financial institution, and the bank is in the process of tracing where the funds landed.
Whether you report the mistake or not, the bank will eventually know who has the money. Make it easy on yourself by making an immediate notification and leaving the money where it is. The bank will handle the transfer.
According to the North Carolina Consumers Council, there are plenty of cases of people who received deposits they knew weren't theirs but spent anyway. Some moved the money to another account or invested it. Others bought cars or helped relatives with bills. While criminal charges vary by state, what each did amounted to theft.
Any time there's a banking error, the best move is to make a report, provide evidence, and give the bank time to make things right.
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