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When A $500 Deposit Turns Into $20,000

Man in a suit using an ATM machineWho would say no to $20,000 unexpectedly showing up in their checking or savings account? If you answered no one, you’re probably right.

But reality tells you money doesn’t magically appear anywhere, ever, so it’s a bit startling when big numbers flash where they’re not supposed to –like at your friendly neighborhood ATM.

This happened to me.

PNC Bank’s Deposit Easy ATM, which rolled out in 2012, eliminated the dreaded days of grabbing an envelope (if there were any available), jamming your cash or checks into it and then sloppily writing your name and deposit amount on it – all while an impatient line of cars forms behind you. Similar ATM technology has been used by Chase and other banks for a few years.

PNC introduced the Deposit Easy ATMs, which just scan your cash or checks, to “provide a convenience for customers,” PNC spokesman Marcey Zwiebel said.

Simple enough. Unless you’re me, apparently.

In the drive-up, I deposited two checks – $220 and $265, respectively – at once. Both fed into the machine smoothly before the screen showed check images. Nice and easy, until the next screen asked me to confirm the deposits were correct.

What started as a $485 deposit suddenly became a $22,265 banking jackpot.

The $220 check – casino winnings from a successful bet on the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup – scanned in as $22,000.

The numbers looked nice on the screen for the fleeting moment it took me to realize something was wrong. Not knowing what to do didn’t overcome years of being a journalist covering the crime beat, so driving off with an exaggerated balance was never an option.

So, given the option to edit the deposit, I just as quickly lost $22,000. But my modest deposit was now correct.

If this happened to me, how often has this happened to others? And what happens if someone isn’t honest or doesn’t notice a huge, incorrect deposit?

Turns out, whether it’s intentional ignorance or a simple mistake, no matter what happens at the ATM, you’ll never see money that doesn’t belong to you in your account.

“If you had said OK to the $22,000, there would have been a person who would have caught that,” Zwiebel says. “There are people who are reviewing the deposits going through the machine.”

The time between when a deposit goes from “pending” to “available” means a quick withdrawal of erroneous dough isn’t possible, Zwiebel says.

None of this should be a surprise to anyone who ever added wrong or mispunched a deposit amount at an ATM. In my three years with PNC, I’ve had tellers from the local branch call me about those types of things, another sign of how ATM actions are watched.

Anyone who does catch an automated error after the fact can contact their branch or the customer service number on their card, Zwiebel says.

“We do have an extremely high accuracy rate,” she says.

Oh, well. There’s another get-rich-quick scheme dashed.

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