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A Question of Ethics and Money… What Would You Do?

by Ryan Guina

This video shows an ATM scam in which a thief reprogrammed an ATM to dispense four times the normal amount of money requested. The ATM machine was programmed to “think” it had been filled with $5 bills, not $20 bills.

Nine days passed from the time the ATM was reprogrammed until the theft was discovered. During that time, thousands of dollars were fraudulently taken – by the thief who reprogrammed the machine, and by others who unknowingly used a rigged machine, but kept the extra money without reporting it.

(If you are reading via a feedreader, you may have to click through to view the video).

I am fairly certain that no one reading this would be the kind of person to rig the machine to steal money. But how many people would actually report it and return the money? I would have a hard time walking away knowing I had just taken more money than I should have.

I am interested to read your comments.


Published or updated July 19, 2011.
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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mrs. Micah

I would probably end up turning it in too. I’d really really want to keep it, though.

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2 SingleGuyMoney

I agree w/ Mrs Micah. I would WANT to keep it but I know that would not be the right thing to do. You know what they say about karma….

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3 fathersez

We in our family follow this rule.

If we take what is not ours, such as this extra money, then something, either equivalent in amount or more might be taken away from us in ways we would not expect.

And it might well be more painful, such as being robbed etc.

It is a spiritual thing, and it helps/ensures eliminate this kind of “keep or report extra money” doubts.

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4 Lynnae @ Being Frugal

I’d report it. It would be hard, but I’d do it.

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5 Traciatim

I would report it to the ATM owner right away. Not because of ethics, but because I know they will find it eventually. When they do, they should charge everyone with theft . . . at least anyone who didn’t call the company or at least report the problem.

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6 Anon

I agree with the others…I’d want to keep it, but I wouldn’t. Partially due to ethics, partially due to a belief in karma.

Once I was halfway home from the grocery store and I realized they gave me $5 too much. Normally, I’d give it back, but I was already on the road and I decided not to bother. The next day I left a tip in a tip jar at a smoothie shop. I meant to leave $1, but instead I accidently put in the $5. Obviously I wasn’t going to fish it out, but after I sat down the people working there were talking excitedly about how someone put $5 in the tip jar. Definitely made me a believer in karma, and I was relieved that the $5 was out of my hands, and going to some kids who were probably working for minimum wage.

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7 Stacey

Everyone who put their card into that machine will be busted – its the same as “finding” an extra $45,000 in your checking account (happened to me) it’s not your money and the bank will, eventually, find the error and correct it. You can bet all those people who used the machine during that timeframe will be contacted by the bank and/or authorities.

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8 Blaine Moore

Having been in a similar situation (not as exciting; just two bills stuck together) and having turned the money back in, I know what I would do.

Then again, I’ve been in a similar situation as Anon where I didn’t realize that I’d made out until well afterwards, and it would have cost me more to go back than I would be returning so I didn’t bother.

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9 Smart. Healthy. Rich.

I would probably have to think about it for a minute, but I’m pretty sure that I would report it. It’s kind of similar to the situation when you realize that a cashier gave you too much change back.

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10 Ryan

It’s good to see that all of you are on the same page as me.

Stacey, I agree, the bank will have records of all the transactions during this period and will take corrective action. Unfortunately, some of the people who decided not to report the incident would have spent the money as though it was free, and would end up with a little shock at the end.

I have had the same experience as Blaine and had two 10 Pound notes stick together from a cash point when I was in the UK. The bank was 2 blocks away, so I walked over and returned the extra note to a surprised teller. Ten Pounds isn’t much in the grand scheme of things – but it is the right thing to do.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. :)

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11 Double Journey

I wouldn’t keep it nor would I want to keep it. I’ve actually been faced with scenarios before where i got something that didn’t rightfully belong to me, and each time I did the right thing.

In the end, It isn’t about believing in Karma or anything like that. I just believe in living an honest life, because living a false one is too hard. Like others have pointed out, it can actually have negative consequences on you if you don’t turn it in and the problem is discovered, so why ever worry about the situation in the first place.

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12 Ryan

Double Journey,

I agree with you 100%. Unfortunately, there are many who would look at this like another payday, and end up getting into a lot of trouble over it.

Another issue not mentioned yet – reporting it can actually help others because you are not allowing more people to get into this ethical dilemma in the first place.

In the end, reporting it is the right thing to do, but it also helps the ATM owner, banks, and customers. An all-around win in my book.

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13 glblguy

I would give it back, it wouldn’t be mine to keep.

A good point was made too though, the bank will get their money. Each transaction is logged, and the bank knows how much money was dispensed and to whom. They even have you recorded using the machine to prove it was indeed you. Better to go ahead and return it than have the police knock on your door with an arrest warrant.

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