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Money has appeared in my account that isn't mine. Can I spend it?

Last week I discovered £450 had been transferred into my account by a company I did some one-off freelance work for last year. I wasn't expecting any more cash from them in the form of royalties, back pay or anything like that. I haven't had a letter or email from them about it. I really need the money, and I have pretty lax morals. What should I do? What is my legal position?


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madameB If you don't believe it to be yours then you can't spend it. Check back with them in writing, because it might be genuine. Don't say to them that you don't think it is yours. Ask them to put in writing what it is for, for your records. If they write back to say it is yours then you have done the honourable thing and you can then spend it. You never know - there may be an extra payment due. Good luck Mike

MadameB, I am here to tell you that Mike is 100% correct when he says you should not spend it. The bank WILL discover its error and come back after the cash. (And if you have spent it, like, ahem, somebunny I know, they will just slap your account with an overdraft until you pay it back!*) My account has twice now been erroneously credited with chunky sums, once out of the blue and once when a transfer was credited to me twice. It took the bank a week to sort it out the first time and almost a month the second time, but believe me, they will spot their error eventually! lovebunny *caveat: this was in my foolish youth

Hi MadameB Is your bank First Direct? Apparently they have had a huge problem with text messages going out to customers saying they have credited their account and also saying they have withdrawn money! We checked it out as one of our team members had a text from them. They said it was a mistake made only by text and the money hasnt gone in or out? I think MikeGG1 is right though...check it out before you do anything! TheWelshman (a member of the lovemoney.com team)

Thanks for your answers folks. No, it's Abbey, not First Direct. I know I should do the honourable thing. *Sigh* But as it's presumably the company's mistake (if it is a mistake) and not my bank's, they can't just whip the money out of the account again can they? They would have to write to me requesting that I give it back I reckon.....?

madameB There is no hard and fast rule about this. Generally, the longer that you have had the money, the longer that you should be given before it is debitted. In other words, it is reasonable to reverse an erroneous transaction within a day or so because you wouldn't be likely to have spent it. But if it has been in your account for a while, it is unreasonable to take the money without saying anything and giving you a little time to make the money available. Having said that, reason does not seem to enter into it these days and I doubt if it has been tested in court. However, I would be most unhappy with my bank if they allowed the debit through after a week, or more, without any notice having been given. That would be Abbey! Mike