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June 18, 2007

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Once, my brother took some money out of an ATM outside of his bank's branch location. The machine dispensed an extra $20, which he took inside to return to the unautomated teller. When he told them he was returning money that wasn't his, they looked at him like he was from Mars.

I pretty much approach in the same manner. If I catch it at the place I did business, I'll bring it up to them. If I catch it after I get home, I'll leave it be.

A lot of people will say tough cookies to the business because it's their fault. Yes, but if you catch it... it's your integrity on the line. Some people may not care too much about that, but some of us do.

I don't correct them, and I don't feel bad about it . . . unless it's a small mom and pop operation. I like to see those succeed and I wouldn't want a mistake to hurt their bottom line.

But with most of my shopping and eating out, I wouldn't try to give the money back-- they build incidents like this into their prices. My better half used to work at Best Buy, and their prices factored in "shrink"-- a percentage added to the price to account for stolen goods, cashier errors, etc. We are all paying more at Best Buy (well, not me, as I won't shop there) to account for the "shrink," so when it hits you, just consider that your previous and future purchases are going to make up for that as you continue get nickeled and dimed. The same is true just about everywhere-- you're paying for their mistakes whether you realize it or not.

I bought a suit once and the cashier rang up the $20 tie twice, and missed the $200 suit coat. It was a very busy day and I could have walked right out and no one would have ever known. But I knew, so I brought it to her attention and paid the full price. I wouldn't have been able to handle not doing so.

Great timing - I agree 100% with FMF on this one.

I really need some suggestions on this very topic. Let's make it a little more complicated.

I have a checking account (no-fee) I rarely use. It seems the IRS deposited a $2,000 refund in there a little over a month ago either by mistake or the person put down the wrong account.

I contacted the bank a while ago, but have yet to receive a reply. I am hesitant to contact the IRS directly knowing that it is going to cost me a ton of time dealing with their mistake. I obviously can't keep it, so I feel really stuck.

How would you handle this one?

I point out the error and pay/return the difference at the time I notice. If they don't care or make me jump through hoops, I just call it good and go on my way knowing that I gave them the opportunity.

I recently had a situation where my oil company overcharged me by accident, so I called them and they fixed it for me. My next bill/invoice showed the correction and should have had a $0 balance, but they "fixed" their error twice so I actually now had a credit for the amount that I had previously been over. I called them up and let them fix it. Had they made me wait on hold or made it very difficult for me to explain and correct the problem, I would have taken the free 5 or 10 gallons of oil or whatever it came to the next time they delivered, but they have great customer service so it only took a few minutes for them to fix everything. My next bill/invoice did show the correct $0 balance.

Terry --

That's an interesting issue. A few suggestions:

1. Do you have a lawyer or accountant (or a friend who's one) who could give you any suggestions?

2. What about contacting the local IRS office and asking them what to do?

3. Search online for what others have done.

4. Here's what I'd do: turn it over to your wife and let her deal with it. ;-)

Ok. Now let me throw something in the mix. Let's say you have an absolutely terrible experience with your purchase. You are ignored and/or treated rudely by the staff. Now they under charge you (or give you better merchandise). Do you still bring it up to them? Or do you feel justified in that you paid for it with your patience?

Rdub --

Oooooooooooooh! You're tempting me now!!!! ;-)

Thanks for the reply FMF. This gets back to the hassle factor you mentioned. I don't have a lawyer I can just call unfortunately. I searched online, but found no answers. I guess my only recourse is going to be calling the IRS, but again - I am the one who is going to have to spend MY time fixing someone else's mistake.

I have an idea - I am going to keep 10% as a "hassle fee"... ;)

Hey! Searched again and miraculously found this: http://taxes.about.com/b/a/257355.htm

I found something interesting at my online bank portal as well - it shows the SSN of the person who was supposed to get the money. The big question here - will the bank do the right thing and get it to the right person. According to this article, the IRS will do nothing.

Terry, first of all, the bank just had a security breach by showing you the SSN of the recipient. They need to be made aware of that. Secondly, just contact the bank, tell them the SSN of the person that was supposed to get the money and they should be able to move it without any intervention from the IRS. I work for a financial institution and "it ain't rocket science".

FMF, the bad experience thing happened to me and my wife. It was the only time that we "let it slide" because we were completely exhausted by the end of the whole experience and completely disenchanted with the franchise. All of the other times we have seen a mistake, we speak up.

Terry,
I once had a mystery deposit made to a rarely used checking account at Wells Fargo. I called to ask if they could provide any information on it, and they said it was a deposit made at a branch. Nothing more. A few weeks later, the money magically disappeared. I called again and they said the money was there in error and it was corrected. I didn't like how they didn't inform me of the "correction," but obviously they fixed it when they figured it out.
I'm sure someone's counting on that money somewhere!

If someone like the IRS made a big mistake, I would agree to spend a couple hours trying to get it right. But, if that didn't cut it, I would set the money aside in a high yield account and if it was ever resolved, I would keep the interest as an inconvenience fee.

I'm with FMF on this one, except for one thing -- if I'm undercharged for things at a restaurant, say they don't charge for sodas and extra chips or something, I'll always add that cost into the tip for the waiter.

When I served tables, I would sometimes do that for tables (on accident and sometimes knowledgeably) so that the tip would be higher, and those things literally cost the restaurant nothing.

Stephen, I would have to disagree with you regarding overtipping the server for their own mistake. Sodas and extra chips might not cost much, but what the restaurant charges for them is what you agreed to pay when you ordered it. There are more costs to running a restaurant than the cost of the ingredients. Besides that, it rewards the mistakes or, worse yet, intentional misdeeds of the server. If the server purposely undercharges or over serves, that is stealing. Even if it's a mistake, it was the server's fault and, at restaurants I'm familiar with, they would have that deducted from their pay if their manager found out. Even if they don't get caught, the server should make it right (and let the manager know their good deeds to give karma a little push :)).

- Andy

I agree with broknow... when a waiter does not charge me for things like say, extra sour cream at a mexican restaurant or perhaps an extra drink when technically they were supposed to charge - i add it to the tip - sometimes the waiter is trying to correct previous bad service, etc and I recognize their efforts...otherwise I figure the break I get on the lesser charge in one place balances out with the times when I don't catch errors that were not in my favor. I wouldn't call a restaurant back if I found a small error in their favor after I got home so why should I feel bad that I don't call them when it is in my favor?

I have had a membership at a gym for a year now and turn out that when I signed up I payed a 160 down payment including initiation fee and the person that signed me up kept 100 for herself and put down in the system that I only payed 60 and was using another persons credit card to cover my payments and not mine. I have my original receipt where It says that I payed 160 and it also had MY credit card info. And now since the gym just found out that all that money wasn't coming from my card they are telling me that I need to pay them. What should do? Pay them or not pay them?

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