This is what my journalism lecturers used to call a “man bites dog” story – a happening which is newsworthy because it’s the opposite of what usually happens.
Last month student Sibongile Mani became the poster child for the “the money landed in my account, so it’s mine” school of thought, which is rife, sadly, for those who mistakenly transfer their money into the wrong account.
And it’s far easier to do than many people realise: transposing a single digit, leaving a digit out (at which the bank’s computer system inserts a zero to make it a viable bank account number) or clicking on the wrong beneficiary in your EFT list, is all it takes.
Legally, finders keepers is not a justifiable response. Knowingly keeping or spending money which is not yours is a form of theft and there is legal precedent to prove it.
But the banks can’t take it upon themselves to snatch the money from the claimed “wrong” account and put it where it belongs, so that leaves the out-of-pocket person with the option of legal action, which is both costly and very slow, so many are forced to accept the loss, especially when it’s a relatively small amount.
All of which makes Amy Desai’s story very unusual indeed.
In late June, Desai, who lives in Umzinto on the KZN south coast, received an SMS notification that R2100 had been deposited into her account. “I wasn’t expecting any money so I contacted my bank, Standard Bank, and was told that they would let me know who the deposit came from.”
But not for nothing – she was charged a fee of R23 for the name of the man who she didn’t know – I’ll call him Mr B – and his contact details: two landline numbers and a cellphone number.
“I called him to tell him what had happened, but he said he was driving and either he or his wife would call me back.
“That was three months ago. I sent him an SMS last month and his response was that he can’t understand why the intended recipient hadn’t contacted him.
“Now the two landline numbers I was given are wrong numbers and he doesn’t answer his cellphone.
“The bank told me that the money would be mine after 40 days, but I don’t want it because it wasn’t intended for me – I want Mr B to take it back,” she told In Your Corner. “Please help.”
As I said, very unusual indeed.
I took up the case with Standard Bank, which also struggled to make contact with Mr B.
“We called many times and he eventually returned our call,” said Standard Bank spokesman Ross Linstrom on Friday.
“He said he does make regular payments of R2100, including one in June, and would send us confirmation of this. It seems he made a finger error, but he said he would like to be 100% sure that the funds belong to him before instructing us to pay it to him.”
This has to be the most unwanted R2100 ever. And here’s the kicker: on top of that R23 fee she was charged for Mr B’s contact details, Desai’s account was debited with another R290 to have the money transferred out of her account!
“I’m not complaining,” she said, “just mentioning it”.
Outraged on her behalf, I raised it with Linstrom who later said the fee had been reversed.
“We also thanked her on more than one occasion for bringing this matter to our attention and for her honesty,” he said.
So if you are the unintended recipient of someone’s EFT, and you do the right thing by reporting it to your bank, don’t agree to the money being transferred out of your account until you get a written undertaken that your good grace will not be penalised with a bank fee.