Personal Finance, Saving Money, Shopping

Bank Error in Your Favor: Collect $100 or Do the Right Thing?

monopoly money

I remember playing Monopoly when I was younger and I remember landing on the squares that were marked Chance or Community Chest. You could get a card that said “Go straight to Jail,” “Pay $50 to each player” or “Win $50 in a beauty contest.” But what about that one that said “Bank Error in Your Favor – Collect $100?” I find this one a little odd because this situation could be a moral dilemma and the game doesn’t give you a chance to go to the bank and report it. If there happened to be a bank error in my favor in real life, would I just collect the money and say nothing? Or would I contact the bank and have it straightened out – since it really wouldn’t be my money after all?

I was faced with a situation the other day that made me think about this. My husband went shopping for some new clothes. It’s been below freezing temperatures for a while where we live and I decided that I needed to buy some more sweaters. I told my husband he could get an NFL team shirt for coming shopping with me. After the clerk rang up our items I scanned the receipt as we left the store, as I usually do, looking to make sure we got the appropriate discount (that night all clothes were an additional 20% off when we used our rewards card for that store). I asked my husband how much his shirt was because I couldn’t find it on the receipt. Then I realized that we were only charged for 3 sweaters when I had purchased 4 and my husband’s T-Shirt. We basically walked out of the store with 2 free shirts.

I admit that my first thought was “Alright! Free stuff!” but then my conscience kicked in. Even though I hadn’t willingly stolen those shirts from the store, if I drove away knowing we hadn’t paid for them, I would have felt that I did. So we decided to go back into the store and tell them about the error. We took our situation up to the customer service desk since the gentleman who rang us up was no longer at the check stand. The woman behind the counter looked a little surprised that we had brought them back to pay for them and stated that we received the brownie points of the year for that.

I was hoping that by being honest maybe we would get the shirts for free anyhow. That didn’t happen. We ended up paying an additional $25 for the shirts, but at least we had a clean conscience. My husband mentioned that he never looks at receipts and would probably have never noticed that (another reason I take care of the money in our household). I pretty much always look at receipts. I figured that I pretty much always catch it when we’ve been overcharged and usually go back and ask for my money back, so why would I not take the same effort to rectify the situation when it’s not in my favor? Yes, it was the store’s error, but I felt it would be dishonest of me to not point out this error when I would be sure to point it out if it was the opposite situation and I was charged with 2 extra shirts instead. Plus, it’s not like I couldn’t afford to pay for the 2 shirts – if I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t be buying them.

That evening I felt a war between my frugal self who loves to save money and my moral self who would rather be honest about the situation. I figure that if I’m willing to cheat a store, how long will it be until I’m willing to cheat a friend or family member? I definitely don’t want to be that person. So I will continue to practice honesty and integrity, even when it doesn’t benefit me. Especially in this season of giving that we are in, and even all year round, what would you do if you were the recipient of a bank or store error that favored you? Would you keep shut about it and take the money or would you realize that your integrity is more important than any extra money that could fall into your hands?

Image courtesy of scottwills

9 thoughts on “Bank Error in Your Favor: Collect $100 or Do the Right Thing?

  1. I’ve had similar situations usually when I’m watching them scan the items. I make sure that the item was actually scanned. After all, it’s not fun trying to walk out of the store and they might have forgot to wipe the magnetic tags. Then you try to explain the items that aren’t on the receipt to store security. Honestly, it’s just safer to watch while checking out rather than fiddle around with a wallet or purse and not notice.

    I actually wonder how you managed to be paying attention for overcharges, but missed the cashier putting two items in your bags that were not scanned.

    I also would have the bank error corrected rather than assume that money was mine and then have the account overdrafted because the bank itself discovered the error and rectified it without your knowledge.

  2. Kinda the opposite situation, but..

    When I lived in Michigan I bought some soda at the store one time, and noticed they hadn’t applied the appropriate discount.

    I took it up to the customer service people, and they refunded me 3x the mistake. Apparently there is a law in some states that if an automatically scanned item scans too high, they have to refund you a multiple of the difference.

    I guess the theory being that it’s so easy to overcharge so many people, that they want to give stores a real incentive not to make hte mistake..

  3. I once walked out with Sewing Machine Oil. Next time I was in, I had them charge me for it. I just got a weird look, and the clerk charged me, but didn’t seem impressed nor baffled. Must have been that kind of day.

  4. Another reason it’s good to have it off your conscience — some stores will hold the cashiers financially responsible when they make errors. I’m always afraid that someone else’s honest mistake could cost them money they might not have if I’m not willing to be honest.

  5. You did the right thing. Knowingly walking out without paying is stealing, even if it was the cashier’s mistake.

    Just today, my wife went to the grocery store. The cashier rang up one produce item as Cucumbers. My wife pointed out that they were actually Zucchini. She didn’t know the prices and had no idea if that would save her money or cost her more money. The point was just that the cashier had made a mistake and my wife corrected her. She would have done so even if she knew the correction would cost her money.

    We all like to save money, but we shouldn’t do it by taking advantage of mistakes made by others. That isn’t being a good person.

  6. A similar thing just happened to me. After I got out of the line and checked my receipt, I saw that my coupon had been deducted twice. I went to the customer service desk, wondering if they could even fix the problem. They just refunded all the money to the card I had used and re-did it properly. (No, they did not need the coupon for some reason.)

    I had been tempted to just walk out victoriously. But I did what I always do in these situations which is to remind myself that my soul cannot be bought (certainly not for such a low price!).

    In a movie I just watched, a mother asked her son, “What do I always tell you?” He said something like “Stand up for myself.” She replied, “No, fight for what is right.” Sometimes it’s so easy.

  7. Just wanted to comment about the bank error. I had a situation where I had a $400 error in my favor. I notified the bank of the issue and they told me there was no error. I have tried to rectify the issue many times since but here it is 6 years later still unresolved. And I have heard of other people who have had similar situations with the bank.

    But on the other side I have heard from people that had the opposite issue happen where they notified the bank and the bank then took the money. Or even the bank was never notified but eventually realised the issue and took it.

    So with banks it can be in your favor or it might not. Depending on the bank and their mood I guess.

  8. Recently I walked out of a computer store without being charged for an $80 laptop bag. I immediately went back in, found the salesperson, and told him.

    As it turns out, he was one of the managers. He said that he really appreciated my honesty. He gave me his card and told me that from now on, anytime I wanted to buy anything in the store — even computers — I would get a 10% discount, beginning with the $80 bag I had brought back.

    That’s not often going to happen of course, but that one incident drove home for me that sometimes doing the right thing also turns out to be better than you think.

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