The ATM loophole that let barman steal millions

Sarah Coles
Dan Saunders ATM fraud
Dan Saunders ATM fraud

Dan Saunders, a 29-year-old barman from Wangaratta in north-eastern Victoria, stumbled across a glitch in ATMs which let him withdraw free money. He stole $1.6 million in four and a half months and went on a crazy spending spree with the cash.

He told the TV show he had attracted no interest from police in the three and a half years since the theft. A warrant for his arrest has since been issued.

The loophole

The Australian programme Current Affair interviewed Saunders, who said he had been on a night out with friends in February 2011, when he discovered the glitch in the system. He went to an ATM and discovered he only had $3 in his savings account , so he transferred $200 from his credit card. The machine issued the response 'transaction cancelled', but he had the $200 in his bank account, so he withdrew it and went back to the pub.

Later that night he tried the trick again, and withdrew $2,000 - the limit of his credit card - then he went home.
The Daily Mail reported that he was taking advantage of the fact that the ATMs were going offline, at which point usually you can transfer funds but not get a balance for your account. In this window, he was finding he could transfer cash from his credit card and it wasn't registering. In a few weeks he withdrew $20,000.

The consequences

He lost his job and was dumped by his girlfriend, so decided to go back to Melbourne, where he continued to use the technique to withdraw cash, and started to live the high life. By May he was thought to have withdrawn $1.6 million. He spent the money on lavish nights out, private jets and gambling.

In June, the guilt became too much and he called the bank to report it. The bank told him it was under police investigation and would not discuss the details with him.

Last week, three and a half years later, police issued a warrant for his arrest. A National Australia Bank spokesperson told the TV programme: "Once the fraudulent transactions were confirmed in May 2011, NAB took immediate action to close the relevant accounts and prevent any further fraudulent transactions by the individual. NAB also ensured that a similar fraud could not be carried out by any other individual." It added that in any case of financial fraud the money would have to be repaid.

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ATM Spit Out Free Cash In A Clever Promo
ATM Spit Out Free Cash In A Clever Promo

ATM warning

It's another reminder that ATM's have their flaws. In the UK we have seen this when cashpoints suddenly start giving away free money. In May 2012 it happened in Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire, and in November 2011 it hit a cashpoint in Hull.

However, while this kind of thing can seem like a gift that it would be churlish to refuse, there are very good reasons for not taking advantage. The law states that you are not breaking the law if you genuinely believe the money being dispensed to you is yours. However, if it's not coming out of your account - or if a machine is just spitting out notes - it's clearly not your cash to take.

In these instances you must hand the cash back straightaway. If you keep it or spend it you are breaking the law, and the banks can track you down, demand you return the money and report you to the police.

In instances where people walked away with £20, banks have tended to overlook it, but clearly once your windfall hits $1.6 million, you're in serious trouble.

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