When a Junk Mail Check for $95,000 Clears A Bank Account

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You know those junk mail checks you get in the mail for thousands of dollars that aren’t negotiable for cash? Patrick Combs deposited one for $95,093.35 at his bank’s ATM as a joke. The funny thing is: It cleared his account. He wrote about his experience for the Financial Times two summers ago:

All $95,093.35 was mine for the taking. All I had to do was ask. Windfall money begs us to take it and run. But I restrained myself. And gave the bank another two excruciatingly long weeks to do their job, catch up with their mistake, and bounce the cheque. But at the end of three hellish weeks, during which I hourly resisted the urge to take the money and run to Mexico, where it would be worth twice as much, I was told by my branch manager, “You’re safe to start spending the money, Mr Combs. A cheque cannot bounce after 10 days. You’re protected by the law.”

Now, it’s possible that any thinking man would have asked for a satchel and all the cash right then and there. Me, I must lack the gene for seizing the moment, because I didn’t touch the money. I drove myself straight to a law library to confirm for myself the 10-day rule. This triggered two discoveries. First, that my branch manager was wrong. There is no 10-day rule that protects you on a bounced cheque. It is a 24-hour rule! In the United States, when a bank receives notice that a cheque paid into your account has bounced, it has 24 hours to notify you and, if it fails to do this, you are safe to spend the money. Pretty neat, I say. Secondly, I learned that what I thought was a fake cheque was legally a real cheque. A little-known change in the 1990 Uniform Commercial Code made it so that the words “non-negotiable” printed on a cheque do not invalidate it. It may have been just a small footnote change but what I deposited was, marvellously, an accidentally real $95,093.35 cheque.

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Photo: Sandy Huffaker