If an unexpected $1,500 kept arriving in your bank account every month, would you tell anyone?
Or would you think of it as blissful found money and spend it on blissful things you found in online stores?
What if these mysterious payments kept arriving for two years? Would your guilt increase or decrease? Or would you think that Warren Buffett had suddenly taken kindly to your personality?
These might sound like hypothetical questions.
Yet they describe the moral dilemma that may (or may not) have crossed the mind of one very interesting person who kept receiving an online transfer from Sally Donaldson (not her real name).
A hairdresser in the U.K., Donaldson thought she was making a regular transfer to the joint account (at a different bank) that she maintained with her husband.
Yet, as the Guardian explains it, she had typed one wrong number and the money disappeared to a person unknown.
Ancient definitions of morality were clearly unknown to the person unknown.
This Donaldson discovered when, having unearthed her own two-year error, she also discovered that the person unknown had spent all the money.
So even though she has the legal right to get the money back, there is no money to be had. The receiving bank, Nationwide, explained to her that the majority of the money had been withdrawn by ATM.
A Nationwide spokesman told the Guardian: "The final payment transferred was recovered, but previous payments were no longer in the account. The recipient has been contacted, and we have established she doesn't have the funds to repay."
Sally Donaldson had lost a total of 26,650 British pounds, or roughly $41,422.
You might already be wondering how she could have been so, well, unforgivably careless. It's not as if she's rich. She's a hairdresser and her family's annual household income is less than $75,000.
She blames going paperless. She says she only paid attention to how much money was in her account.
She told the Guardian: "Having moved over to paperless statements in 2010, I had been checking that my wages were leaving my business account held with HSBC at the end of every month. However, to my horror, I now saw they had never arrived in our joint Nationwide account. Scrolling back, the last time my wage appeared on our statement was May 2010."
Donaldson can find out who got her money with a court order. But if that person is unable to return the money, what can she do? Many will simply declare that it was her own fault.
More Technically Incorrect
That's certainly the position both her own bank, HSBC, and the receiving bank, Nationwide are taking.
However, what seems odd is that if all the other details in her online transfer were correct, how could it be that there wasn't some inconsistency noticed between, say, the account holder's name and the account number?
Yet the account holder's name is irrelevant for an online transfer. The machines only look at the so-called bank sorting code (which identifies the receiving bank) and the account number.
It so happened that the mistaken number she typed represented a real account.
Still, not noticing a lack of $1,500 for two years? You might imagine that her husband might have noticed something amiss too.
Sometimes, though, all you can imagine is that human beings conceive the inconceivable.
Anyway, isn't taking (and spending) money that wasn't theirs how half of Wall Street got rich?