Michaela Hutchings, a 23-year-old mother from Lichfield in Staffordshire, was accidentally credited with just over £52,000 by her local council. Rather than coming clean about the mistake, she decided to go on a shopping spree - and spent £9,000 in one trip to Birmingham's Bullring shopping centre.
She's far from the first person to do this - but the consequences are dire.
The council had meant to pay a local housing association, but had put the money into Hutchings' account instead.
SpreeAccording to the Lichfield Mercury, Hutchings and her then-boyfriend travelled to Birmingham, where they blew the obscene sum on designer clothes and sunglasses. She also gave her mum £1,000, and transferred £40,000 into an investment account.
The Daily Mail reported that she was found guilty of dishonesty and retaining a wrongly credited bank transfer at Stafford Crown Court this week. The court recorder said she had been influenced by the man she was dating at the time and spared her jail - sentencing her to a 12 month community order and 150 hours of unpaid work instead. She will face a separate investigation into the £40,000 she invested - under the Proceeds of Crime Act - to ensure all the money is recovered.
ConsequencesIt highlights the importance of reporting money that erroneously is credited to your account. In the UK you have a legal duty to report it, and keep your hands off it, or you can be prosecuted for retaining wrongful credit. 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.
She's not the first to have succumbed to temptation. In 2007 a Blackburn mum was wrongly credited with £135,000 and went on a 15-day shopping spree with her family. She spent £300 on trainers, £3,000 on shopping and £7,000 booking a holiday to Florida. The 20-year-old was sent to youth custody for a year, her 25-year-old sister (who spent £18,000) was jailed for ten months, her husband and her brother in law (who had received £40,000 each) were jailed for a year.
In 2012 a New Zealand petrol-station owner was sentenced to four years and seven months in prison. He had accidentally been given a £4.65 million overdraft, and he and his girlfriend withdrew half of the money and went on the run in Hong Kong. He was extradited from Hong Kong and she was arrested after returning to New Zealand.
That same year a man in Detroit discovered he could make unlimited overdraft withdrawals from cashpoints. He withdrew $1.5 million and lost it all gambling. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison and ordered to repay the money.
And just last week a Georgia teen was accidentally credited with $31,000 and had spent $25,000 of it before the bank noticed their mistake. He was told to return the money or face prosecution.