Chris Reynolds, a PayPal customer from Pennsylvania, opened his monthly statement on Friday to discover he was a quadrillionaire - with $92,233,720,368,547,800 in his PayPal account. The sum would have made him the world's richest man.
So how did this happen, and did he have any right to keep the money?
QuadrillionsThe story appeared in the Daily News. 56-year-old Reynolds told the newspaper that he had been a PayPal customer for 10 years, and used it when buying or selling on eBay. He didn't usually trade more than $100, so wasn't expecting much when he went to check his account on Friday.
After the initial shock of seeing quadrillions of dollars in his account, he went into his PayPal account to check his balance. He was somewhat disappointed to discover that the balance was listed as zero.
PayPal told the paper that it wouldn't comment on any individual's account, but would look into it.
Reynolds told the paper that if he had been allowed to keep the cash he would spend it wisely. "I'm a very responsible guy," he said. "I would pay the national debt down first. Then I would buy the Phillies, if I could get a great price."
What are your rights?These sorts of mistakes are not unheard of in an electronic world, where a small error can lead to a ludicrous result. We reported in June about the bank clerk in Germany who fell asleep with his finger on the number 2, and accidentally briefly credited an account with £190 million.
Unfortunately, you have absolutely no right to keep the money if your bank, or anyone else, makes this kind of mistake. In fact under UK law you are required to tell them they have made a mistake and ask for them to put it right. If you keep it quiet you can be prosecuted for 'retaining wrongful credit.'
There have been people who have been jailed for spending the cash when they know it had been given to them accidentally. One Blackburn woman was jailed for 10 months in 2007 for it.
You may be able to get away with it if you can show there was good reason to expect that the cash was yours. However, this is incredibly difficult to prove, and a highly risky strategy.
However tempting it might be to keep the quadrillions, there's a pretty good chance that someone is going to spot the mistake and ask for it back.