It was a cheque, made out in my name, for $95,093.35 and it came in a junk-mail letter from a get-rich-quick company. It was worthless, meant only as a financial tease, a lip-licking come-on. “This is how much money you could soon be making.” What it was never meant for was deposit. But that’s exactly what made the thought of depositing it so irresistibly funny. What could possibly be funnier than depositing a perfectly ridiculous, obviously false, fake-cheque? (Did I mention it had “non-negotiable” clearly written on it?). So, as a joke, I deposited the fake cheque into my bank’s ATM. I felt like a million bucks doing so. I’d never had so much fun at my bank. Come to think of it, I’d never had any fun at my bank until the moment I endorsed the back of this “cheque” with only a smiley face and slipped the Monopoly-like money into to the mouth of the hungry ATM. For the first time ever I walked away from my bank laughing.
What I expected to happen next was a short phone call from my bank. Or a letter informing me of what I already knew, that the cheque I deposited was not real. Admittedly, I also hoped for a compliment on my refined sense of humour. A “Mr Combs, what you deposited was not real but very funny, especially considering your real bank account balance history,” (An amount, always bouncing into overdraft).
But the call or the letter never came and I forgot about my joke. Then, five days later, I returned to withdraw some cash from the ATM, and noticed a much higher than usual bank balance. $95,093.35 higher! The bank had credited my account with the fake, false, stupid cheque!
But at the end of three hellish weeks during which about once and hour I was tempted to take the money and run to Mexico where it would be worth twice as much, I was told by my branch manager, “You’re safe to start spending the money, Mr Combs. A cheque cannot bounce after 10 days. You’re protected by the law.”
Now, it’s possible that any thinking man would have asked for a satchel and all the cash right then and there. Me, I must lack the gene for seizing for the moment, because I didn’t touch the money. I drove myself straight to a law library to confirm for myself the 10-day law. This triggered two legal discoveries. First, that my branch manager was wrong. There is no 10-day law that protects you on a bounced cheque. It is, rather, a 24-hour law! In the United States, when a bank receives notice that a check paid into your account has bounced, it has 24 hours to notify you and, if they don’t notify you within this window of time, you are safe to spend the money. Pretty neat, I say. Secondly, I learned that what I thought was a fake cheque was legally a real cheque. In the US, since 1990, a little-known change in the Uniform Commercial Code of law made it so that the words “non-negotiable” printed on a cheque do not invalidate it. It was just a small footnote change in the law that gave no reason why. Nonetheless, what I deposited was, fortuitously, an accidentally real $95,093.35 cheque.
Now I’m slow but not that slow. I withdrew the $95,093.35 and locked it in a deposit box for safe keeping.