Updated -- Child millionaire for a minute ... until bank puts a stop to it

Update: Results of our poll (see below) based on this post of July 2:

You answered the question What would you do if money landed in your bank account by mistake? this way-

Notify the bank- it's the right thing to do: 4,954 votes, 52.8%
Pretend its mine just for fun until they figure it out: 1,654 votes, 17.6%
Empty my account and run: 2,776 votes, 29.6%

Imagine going to an ATM to get some money, and finding out you're a millionaire. Now imagine this happening to you when you're only 16 years old. Would you start spending it? Or would common sense rule and would you check with the bank to see what's going on?

A British boy named William Bowen became a momentary recipient of £2 million and took the more risky approach. He started spending. The story begins with a trip to an ATM to withdraw £300 to do some shopping. Bowen didn't worry about his balance on that stop.

But he returned to the ATM later in the day to check his balance to see if he had any money available for more shopping. Much to his surprise, he appeared to be £2 million richer. Bowen was waiting on a payment from a government program that gives money to children who stay in school. He didn't think it would be that much, but wasn't arguing.

His spree didn't last that long, however. Bowen was so excited that he was telling people on the street to look at his balance. Someone must have tipped off the bank, because the error was corrected and the boy's account showed up as overdrawn. His mom says he'll cover that overdraft when his money from the government actually comes in.

This kind of reminds me of the movie Millions, in which a boy gets a windfall of money and has to decide what to do with it. But I've written this story several times on WalletPop, and something tells me I'll be writing it again ... If your bank account mysteriously grows, don't spend the money. It was an error, it's not yours, and you shouldn't spend it.

Why does that seem like plain old common sense to me and not others? How do people justify taking what's not theirs just because there are other injustices in the world? That's not right in my ethos, and it wasn't right in Bowen's, either. He should be thankful that the bank stopped him before he had a chance to spend even more money and make a real mess for himself.

Maybe even better is the irony that the boy thought this money was his government payment for staying in school. Seems the educational system is failing him in a variety of ways.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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