If you happened to tumble down the mouth of that cave that Aladdin fell into, and you were the one who found the Genie’s lamp, what would you wish for? World peace? True love (in loophole form)? Unlimited dogs?
What about unlimited money? Because that’s what happened(ish) to a bartender from Australia back in 2011, and only now is the picture starting to become clear: unlimited ATM withdrawals every day for 4 months that eventually lead down a rabbit hole of money, drugs, sex, and a breakup we’ve all experienced at least once. This is the story of Dan Saunders, and how he managed to get away with it.
Author’s note: I wrote this story while listening to Donna Summers’ I Feel Love on repeat, and I suggest you do the same. Okay, now with that disclaimer that no one will listen to out of the way, let’s jump in.
Imagine a world where money is free and you could completely get away with stealing it.
Well, one man in Australia got 50% of that equation right, and the other 50% way wrong.
Enter Dan Saunders.
A poor bartender living in Australia struck gold one cold Australian night when he tried to pull $200 out of an ATM.
Here’s the kicker.
He only had $3 in the bank. That’s not a typo. That’s $3.
But the ATM just gave him the money. All $200.
That night, he went out with a few friends, spend some of the money, and on his way home thought, “what the hell, let’s try this again”. And it worked!
The secret was, Dan transferred cash from his credit card to his savings account.
The screen gave an error, reading, “transaction canceled,” but the machine still gave him the $200.
When Dan woke up in the morning, neither of the transactions appeared on his bank statements.
So problem solved, right? This can’t end poorly in any situation.
Here’s why it worked.
The ATM went down for maintenance during certain hours in Australia, and he was able to transfer the cash and make the withdrawal without the machine noticing.
Even when his credit card was maxed.
This feels very relatable outside of the whole “infinite free money” part.
To put it in Saunder’s words:
“I’m transferring money from my credit card to my savings account and it’s just spitting the card back out and saying ‘transaction canceled’.”
“But [I] go in and check [my account] balance and the money’s there.”
Again, no way this could ever come back to you. They don’t have cameras on ATMs, and this suspicious activity is in no way associated with you at all, I’m sure.
So on and on, he continued to withdraw cash… and people noticed.
Because obviously they did! If I was absolutely broke and bought someone even one beer, they would be immediately suspicious.
Saunders managed to spend roughly $20,000 in the first couple of weeks.
Which led to co-workers asking him if he was doing okay (called it). They thought he’d started dealing drugs. Which, to be fair, makes way more sense.
And so did his girlfriend.
She thought he was selling drugs too, so she dumped him. Over text. (Good for her.)
But who needs a girlfriend when you have unlimited money?
Eventually, Dan would go all out and spend big. His first huge purchase — a $90,000 private jet to take him and some friends to a remote Asian island for the weekend.
Dan needed to get his cover story down, and he did.
Soon, to his “new friends” he was a world famous poker player, or a surgeon, or some kind of investment banker. You know those rich people that have super low profiles. I would have gone with something like the 5th hire at Amazon.
“It’s a pretty addictive thing to make money appear from nowhere and be able to spend it,” he said.
Uh, yeah. No shit. Every time I get paid I blow it all on Grubhub and wine coolers, but you don’t see me bragging about it.
Saunders wasn’t slowing down.
Eventually he moved to Las Vegas where his life of luxury was a bit more… luxurious.
And the cops?
The cops didn’t seem to notice, or at the very least care. He wasn’t being called by the police, no warrant was out for his arrest. It didn’t even seem like his bank cared.
Saunders would get calls from his bank when he was making large purchases.
They asked him if he realized his account was hundreds of thousands of dollars overdrawn. And Dan always had one answer.
Saunders described how it was “quite baffling” that no authorities attempted to stop him, so continued to spend like it would be his last day to do so.
It took four months.
Eventually, Saunders said he stopped after thinking he had got away with it as long as he could, and the guilt finally started to set in — four months later.
“At the end of it, I had to say to myself…”
“‘Am I an international criminal who’s just going to transfer money away and never be seen again?’.”
Uhhh Dan. You don’t have to ask yourself that. You are an international criminal who’s just been transfering money away.
“That’s when I stopped doing it because I asked myself that question…and the answer was ‘no’.”
Okay Dan… I bet you feel real bad about this crime you keep saying isn’t exactly a “crime”.
So what happened? Did he totally get away with it like he thought he would?
No! Only rich Americans get to steal millions of dollars and get away with it, haven’t you been paying attention?
Eventually, the bank got in touch with the police who issued a warrant for his arrest. THREE YEARS LATER.
Because of course they did!
Saunders went into hiding for a few days, but eventually turned himself in.
Because of course he did.
He was sentenced to 12 months in jail after being convicted of fraud and theft charges.
Because of course he was.
What exactly was the damage?
In total, Saunders managed to spend more than $1.1m in just over four months after he found he could withdraw money from his account without the transactions being registered.
“A lot of it is a blur, I guess.”
Well that’s too bad, because I bet prison won’t be!
Saunders is now out of jail. When asked if he would do it again, he said, “in a heartbeat”.
What do you think? Would you have 4 months of unlimited money for a year of jail? Do you think Saunders is a total idiot or was he smart with his exploitation? Let us know!