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Oops! Wrong Account. What Do We Do Now?
by Ken Golliher, BOL Guru

QUESTION: One of our branches took in two U.S. Treasury checks for deposit in July 1999. They were payable to a company and were deposited into another company's account and were even endorsed with the name of the different company. Yeah, I know, serious mistake. But anyway, now the company to which the checks were payable has surfaced and wants its money back. Luckily, we were able to freeze the funds in our customer's account. Does the claimant have to provide the original U.S. Treasury checks along with an affidavit? Which affidavit -- there was not actually any forgery?

ANSWER: If I understand the facts, you already determined that the checks went into the wrong account and who the real owner is. I am not certain why the original payee would be asked to provide copies of the original checks or how it could obtain them except from your bank.

Here, the most well marked route is the one where you tell the payee to file a claim with Treasury and Treasury sends you a notice of reclamation which you satisfy by debiting the account and sending a cashier's check. It will take time, but removes any risks associated with your correcting the error by debiting the account.

An alternative approach is to go to the customer to whose account the funds were deposited in error and have it acknowledge that the funds do not belong to their company. (Have a form already prepared for their signature and act as if it is nothing extraordinary.) It should fully describe the checks and indicate their deposit was an error, not intentional.

In candor, once the mistake was verified from your records, putting a hold on the funds wasn't much more agressive than notifying the depositor and taking the funds. Either way, the depositor is denied their use and your institution is at risk if checks are returned. Leaving the money in the account reflects an element of indecision that may encourage the depositor to pursue a "finders keepers" argument. (I have heard that before.)

If you follow the alternative approach, remember, the payee could still file a claim with Treasury for the misdirected check. If you reimburse the original payee, you want a detailed receipt, one that you could send to Treasury on receipt of a reclamation notice.

First published on 7/1/02

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