My Father, The Millionaire…

From my “Overheard” column in the Pacific Sun newspaper. December 20, 1996

We all know that money is tight in Washington and government agencies are counting their pennies, right?  Well, not exactly. Evidence to the contrary is in an amazing story about my father and his checking account.

Dad is retired and lives in South Carolina. He receives a pension and social security benefits, which he supplements by contracting his services to a government agency. Due to budget cuts, that work has dried up lately.

Dad was reading a book and sipping red wine at about nine ‘o clock several evenings ago when the telephone range. A man who said he was with a government contractor in California asked if he was indeed talking to Dad. Yes. Did Dad have federal contracts and did he have arrangements for payments to be deposited directly into his checking account? Yes and yes.

At this point, Dad thought the call might be the usual evening solicitation from MCI, some other nuisance, or if he had gotten lucky, the Prize Patrol from Publishers Clearinghouse. The caller then read off Dad’s bank account number and asked whether an incorrect deposit had been made to the account. “Not to my knowledge,” Dad said. “But my bank doesn’t provide notices of Direct Deposits. I just assume they are there; sometimes I check. I think it’s pretty reliable.” Dad was beginning to think the caller might be part of some kind of phone scam.

Finally, Dad asked, “What’s the amount of the deposit you are looking for?”

“One point two million,” the caller said.

Dad laughed in disbelief. “One point two million? I wish someone would deposit that amount into my account. Right now I have about five bucks in it.”

Shaken by the call, Dad was unable to fall asleep. At midnight, he got out of bed and found a bank statement he had received a few days earlier, still in its envelope. Aware of the low balance and the lack of activity, he had not bothered with it. Now he tore open the envelope — and there it was. Thirty-two direct deposits in November, each in amounts between $19,000 and $300,000, all marked U.S. TREASURY 303 MISC. PAY, totaling $1.6 million.  Dad almost fainted.

The next morning, he called his accountant, who told him what to do. Dad went to the bank, notified them of the mistake, and gave written instructions immediately to remove $1.6 million from the account. That instruction needed to be amended, however. A bank official noted that an additional 15 deposits totaling some $740,000 had been made since the closing of the bank statement. At that point, the deposits in his account totaled $2.3 million dollars.

Dad made several long distance calls to the agency he contracts with to tell them of the error. The agency said the money would be removed.

But what if this had happened to someone less honest than my dad? They could go to the bank, request a cashiers check, and then disappear forever. As for Dad, so far no one has bothered to say thank you.

How did the California company, which missed part of this money, find dad’s telephone number and bank account number? Why was it that the caller, and not a government representative, called Dad to say, “Hey, we’ve made a mistake and deposited millions of dollars into your bank account…”

Finally, should we all check with our bank periodically to see if the government has by mistake deposited a few million into our account? You can bet I’ll be checking my account daily from now on.

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