Sunday, October 12, 2014
Slow down and count your money at the ATM
It happens to the best of us. We're busy, trying to juggle a dozen different errands, checking email on our cell phones, attempting to get to our next appointment on time. Ultimately, we lose track of something or other.
For a reader in Charlotte, N.C., forgetfulness came with a stinging price. After going to an ATM to withdrawal some cash, she drove off without the money.The trouble with cash withdrawals is that once the money is withdrawn, it can be challenging to prove it was yours if you leave it behind.
The cash, of course, disappeared, apparently taken by a subsequent customer. The reader contacted a representative of the bank, who said an investigation would be launched. However, the rep didn't hold out much hope that the cash would be recovered. In the interim, awaiting the results of the investigation, the reader was out the funds she forgot.
Concerned about the reader's loss and subsequent aggravation, a friend, P.B., writes to ask what the right thing to do is when you discover money left behind in an ATM.
"My recommendation is to return the money to the financial operation, to be returned to the customer," writes P.B.
There's no question that P.B. is right. If you find cash left in an ATM, there's certainly more chance of locating the rightful owner than if you found some money blowing around on a wooded trail or in a vacant parking lot. The security camera is likely to have captured the transaction that occurred just before you arrived at the ATM. Tempting as it might be to pocket the funds, the right thing to do is to turn the cash in to the financial institution.
There's no question that returning cash to the bank that's wrongly dispensed by an ATM is the right thing to do. There's also no question that if a financial institution incorrectly credits you with too much money on your bank statement, you should point out the error. Since you might get caught pocketing money left behind by a previous ATM customer, the right thing to do is attempt to return it to the rightful owner.
Ultimately, however, the responsibility for being mindful of her cash falls on P.B.'s friend, not the financial institution. While the person who took the money was wrong, the reader bears responsibility for not paying attention to what she was doing.
Whoever took the money should return it, but P.B.'s friend should take responsibility for not paying attention at the ATM -- a mistake she's unlikely to make again.
Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications programat Harvard's Kennedy School.
Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin
Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.