Any Such Thing as Counterfeit Electronic Funds?

I am wondering whether anyone has ever counterfeited electronic funds. For example, has it ever happened that someone was able to increase the amount of money in their bank account, without actually depositing any cash, and without having (actually) electronically transferred it from elsewhere? Or anything like that.


Sure. That was one of the earlier computer crimes, actually.

Someone noticed that the bank mainframe calculated interest to several digits, but when it was rounded to dollars and cents, the fractional pennies were simply lopped off and discarded since they weren’t “real” - they were just computational garbage.

They wrote a routine to drop all of those discards into their account, and rapidly amassed a lot of money.

Their defense was that they didn’t actually steal money - they simply found it. The bank had a different opinion.

In fact, that’s part of what inspired my question. I am wondering whether anyone has been able to create funds “out of thin air.” (The case you describe I would think is analogous to taking pennies out of someone’s trash can, rather than analogous to creating counterfeit money.)


In another case, which may not entirely match your criteria, two gentlemen opened a bank account then replaced the counter deposit slips with their own. The new counter deposit slips had a place to fill in your account number but they also had a magnetic strip with the gentlemen’s new account number. The gentlemen returned a month later and withdrew about $100,000.

Upon rereading the OP, I suppose it would be possible for the systems analyst to simply change a value in his or a fake account. Don’t know of any who have been caught doing it.

Another case from the same book, checks where written with the wrong bank code. The checks bounced from Fed Reserve to Fed Reserve until the machines couldn’t read them anymore. These guys waited too long to take the money and run.

I’m not an accountant, but I don’t think you can change the balance of an account without being quickly noticed when the bank does its daily account balancing. You would need a corresponding credit to match the increase in the account balance.

What if you can make a deposit appear from thin air electronically? I’m envisioning the receiving bank getting a wire transfer saying “credit account X with $50,000 – everything’s cool” but the sending bank would never be told to “debit account X for $50,000.”

One of them being Richard Pryor in Superman III.

The other being Office Space.

Right, this is a good example of what I had in mind.


Doesn’t quite fit, but I like the story. :slight_smile:


Accounting systems are all about having a from and to for every transacion. The sending banks systems would refuse to generate a
transaction without debiting an account with sufficent funds. You can exploit the check posting lag but do that for more than pocket change and the FBI will be all over you in short order.

I’m not sure if this actually happened or serves as a warning tale but it’s common in database classes to tell the case of ATM programming where person A would insert their card into an ATM and the ATM would get a message saying “There is $500 in this account”. Person B would then insert a card linked to the same account into another ATM and the ATM would get a message saying “There is $500 in this account”. Person A would withdraw $200 and a message would be sent back saying “There is now $300 in this account”. Person B would withdraw $100 and it would send back a message saying “There is now $400 in this account”. As a result, $300 was withdrawn but the computer shows $400 left in the account.