I mistakenly transferred all my money into the wrong account, what now?
19/07/2018 What would you do if a large amount of money was mistakenly deposited into your account? It may see like an impossible occurrence, but transfer mistakes happen a lot more often than you would think.
The 2017 National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) blunder is a prime example of such instances. The scheme mistakenly credited a student’s card with R14 million instead of the usual R1 400, and instead of reporting this error, the student went on to blow over R800 000 of the money. Unsurprising, many people on social media expressed that they would have done the same.
It is however a rather unpleasant experience when the tables are turned and your money ends up in the wrong beneficiary’s account. If this happens to you, it will help to know what options you have.
The Payments Association of South Africa (PASA)
According to PASA, you have the right to the return of money that you incorrectly deposited into someone else's account on the basis of unjust enrichment. And where possible, the bank/s should assist you in the recovery of those funds.
Refusing to return or spending money that you did not work for and are fairly certain was credited to your account erroneously constitutes unjust enrichment and theft.
Working with the bank
Unfortunately, banks act on information supplied to them so they can’t simply disclose the contact details of one of their clients because you made a mistake. If they did, it would compromise their clients privacy and security in cases where the claims are malicious and not legitimate.
Once you realise that you transferred or deposited money into the wrong account, contact the receiving bank immediately and explain the situation. They will try and get into contact with the receiving party to verify whether or not it was indeed a mistake. If the person does acknowledge the mistake, the money will be transferred back into your account.
It is important to note that the bank cannot legally reverse the money in the receiving beneficiary’s account if they refute your claim, regardless of whether or not it is true.
If the transfer was made to a cell phone number, it can be easier to get in contact with the person yourself. However some people could be wary that it’s a scam and may want to get confirmation from their bank that the money has cleared or that the transaction is in fact ‘legitimate’. Also stay cool, calm and collected… you may be in a bit of a panic because of the error but most people will be willing to sort out the matter without any issues.
What you can do
If all else fails, you have the option of either lodging a complaint with the Ombudsman for Banking Services (OBS) or taking the more expensive route of seeking legal help and taking the matter to court. Before complaining to the OBS, you must first allow the bank to try and resolve the matter. Although pursuing legal action might have the best guarantee of a positive outcome, it may not always be worth it if it is going to cost you three times what you lost.
This is not to say you are wasting your time informing the bank of an incorrect transfer, every case is different. There are cases where the receiving beneficiaries were morally sound enough to return the funds without hassle.
Remember, you have a responsibility to ensure that the account number and other details you supply are correct - so next time, triple check all the details you input before making a deposit or EFT.