You think all your Christmases have come at once. You go to your
ATM to withdraw $20 and it gives you $200. Which isn't bad as
you only have $25 in your account.
So, can you keep it? After all, you did nothing wrong. It was
the bank's ATM that made the mistake.
Wrong! The only confusion in the law about this is whether you
will be charged with fraud or with theft.
The legal quandary goes back to the 1980s when ATMs were still
relatively new and went berserk, pouring out cash when they were
offline. One case went all the way to the High Court. The judges
ruled for the banks – the only question was which crime
applied. The judges, in their wisdom, determined an ATM is not a
human so it can't give consent to handing over the extra dosh.
That ruled out fraud as ATMs have no minds and so can't be
fooled. Therefore keeping the cash was stealing.
But as Law Professor Alex Steel wrote in The Sydney Morning
Herald, it's possible you might even be charged with both fraud
and theft. The law in NSW considers it fraud to make an ATM do
something the person is not authorised to make it do. You can be
charged with fraud for deceiving a machine.
There certainly is fraud going on with ATMs. Increasingly people
are being charged with fraud and theft for using skimming machines
to get access to unwitting customers' accounts and pinching
In Perth recently 19 bank customers were charged for allegedly
taking advantage of a software glitch to steal $217,000 from the
bank. They'd discovered times when the ATMs could not check how
much was in their account due to maintenance, and they kept on
withdrawing way beyond their balance.
Police said the offence was clear. If you don't have money
in your account, it's not yours to take. It is stealing and
carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.
But welfare groups complain banks sometimes use heavy-handed
tactics to get money back when ATMs give customers more money than
they have in their accounts. Welfare recipients found their
accounts frozen or closed as the bank demanded cash be returned.
Banks usually give customers 10 days to repay the overpayments
before they start sending rude letters demanding the money
But Santa is around if you get overpaid at work. Under Fair Work
laws an employee usually has to agree to repaying it, or the
employer has to get a court order.
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guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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This increase has financial implications for companies and individuals found guilty under a wide range of Federal laws.
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