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Ask Pay Dirt: My Grocer Gave Me $350 Extra. What Now?

“Ask SmartMoney” is a regular feature in SmartMoney magazine where experts answer readers’ personal finance questions.  Since the magazine gets more questions than it can tackle, we’re answering some of the consumer-related inquires here on PayDirt.  We’re also taking new questions, which you can email to paydirt@dowjones.com.


Q: What are the legal ramifications of not returning money? I picked up a Western Union wire transfer for $150. The cashier in my local grocery stated the amount was $150 and gave me $500 by mistake. I placed the money in an envelope without counting it and put the money in with my other funds. I didn’t notice the extra money until the next day and I have now spent half the money. They have stated that I have to repay by this weekend or they will file a report on me. What kind of report could they  file on me? I told them I can repay the $350, but not until my next pay day, which is May 27. Western Union wants it all now. What should I do?

Concerned, Texas

A: Western Union made a mistake, but you made a mistake by not counting the money and a bigger mistake by spending it. You must give it back – and the sooner the better. The good news: it can be rectified and you have shown willingness to do that. You did the right thing. Regardless of what state you live in, Jon Rudnick, a New Jersey-based consumer litigator, says, “You have to give it back now. It’s neither a gift or pursuant to a contract. If you gave you car keys to someone by mistake that doesn’t entitle them to drive away with it and keep it.” Apologize, explain your situation and give them a date when you will return the money. May 27 is only a week away, so try not to worry. If you are losing sleep, send them a check today for $350 and ask them to cash it on May 27 to show that you are serious about repaying the company.

Texas recognizes a civil law claim for restitution of money paid to someone in error, according to Texas-based attorney Aimee Hess. “Therefore, Western Union could file suit in civil court to recover the funds. It is possible that they could recover attorney’s fees and pre-judgment interest on the overpaid amount as well.” In addition, she says Western Union could file a criminal complaint for theft under the Texas Penal Code. “Given the amount involved, it would be a felony,” Hess adds. “Finally, Western Union may be able to file a negative credit report for this debt. The obvious moral here is clear: always return any money paid in error, and do it immediately.” Remember, that’s what could happen. Paying up asap will likely avoid that.

(Western Union was not immediately available for comment.)

Pay Dirt readers, what’s your verdict?


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    • so, broadly, i think he has rlelay missed the boat on what’s going to happen and is engaging is a bunch of misinformed hyperbole and conspiracy theory fueled by bad data and a very poor grasp of how this system works, including the fact that CDS’s are on individual bonds, so any payoff would always be in tranches laddered with maturity, so notions of a “cataclysm this tuesday” are impossible even if his notions of the situation were correct.John Embry once pointed out that if I did not want to go nuts I had to forget the hyperbole and the method of presentation. The important parts were the information and the logic. If we follow Sinclair’s logic he is saying that there is no way that the bonds will be deemed to be in default by the very institutions that have to pay out in case of default. But that leads to a serious problems for sellers of debt. Without the ability to buy insurance contracts that will pay out there is little incentive for anyone other than the big banks who get access to free money to buy sovereign debt. If you agree so far you have to agree that the monetization of sovereign debt by the central banks and primary dealers will eventually lead to huge inflationary pressures that should be seen in rising equity prices, higher commodity prices, and higher real asset prices. If you don’t you are betting that speculators who used to hedge by using swaps will continue to keep taking what they have to consider higher risks without the safety net of insurance. That is not logical.

    • Recently my employer gave me an extra $ 20 by mistake. So i told him and gave it back to him. The next week he gave me $ 60 extra by mistake, not knowing that his wife had already paid me the $60 owed to me from the work i provided. I returned that $ 60 bucks also. I returned the money because its the right thing to do. As i Christian i know that i can fool people, but i cannot fool God. I cannot in my life claim to be a Christian man and then take advantage of other peoples mistakes. So my friend return the money and trust God to bless you through other means.

    • This really is a no brainer. The extra $350 wasn’t a gift from God or even from your mother. It was NOT EVER your money to spend. If you are the type who does the “right thing because it is right”, you would not have had any doubt about what the right thing to do was. You would have known the right thing was to give the money back, not treat it like a bonus.

      I worked in a super market as a 16 year old. Sometimes we gave back to much change. Most customers returned it. A few did not. The state law was such that the employees didn’t have the money taken from their checks (too many dishonest EMPLOYERS who abuse policies like that), and the company let you be ‘short’ up to a $ per night. But three times with either OVERAGES (happened if we didn’t give back enough change) or UNDERAGES, and we were fired. We learned very quickly to count out change correctly, and, if interrupted while counting, to start over.

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About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.