Mohammad Jamshed Khan replaced the ATM card in his wallet and counted the crisp new notes he'd just withdrawn from the cash machine. Rs.6000? This can't be right! thought the young Mumbai civil contractor. He counted again. It was indeed Rs.6000.
"All I'd asked for was Rs.1200," Khan told his friend Faisal Mukhi who was standing nearby.
"You pressed the wrong buttons, silly," said Mukhi.
"No way!" exclaimed Khan as he pushed his card back in again, keyed in his numeric password and asked for Rs.1000. Beep, click.... whirrr, beeeep! Out popped Rs.5000 -- and a little transaction slip that read: WITHDRAWAL Rs.1000. "Let's try again," said Khan. Card, password, 2-0-0-0...beeeep! But he got Rs.10,000. By now it seemed certain that the ATM was giving away 500-rupee notes instead of hundreds.
"May be something's wrong with your card," Mukhi told Khan, "let me try mine." Mukhi's balance was low -- only Rs.1,300. He pushed his card in and asked for Rs.1000. The machine spat out 5000.
ATMs (short for automated teller machines) are extremely secure and among the hardiest of machines. Look up the Encyclopedia Britannica for "ATMs" and you'll find - entered only under "Locks" - it's virtually impossible to fool an ATM. And the probability of an ATM overpaying is virtually nil. But here they were, two buddies with Rs.26,000 between them - Rs.20,800 of it free money.
There were no other customers in sight on that warm July afternoon. And they could have kept on going. Instead, Khan and Mukhi went outside the ATM's enclosure and summoned the guard on duty. "The machine's all mixed up," they told him. The two men then gave the guard a demo: "Look here," said Khan as he inserted his card one last time and hit the buttons, "I'm with drawing Rs.500... but here's 2500!"
"Don't let anybody near this place," they told the guard as they hopped into an autorickshaw and sped off with all the money.
It looked like daylight robbery -- in reverse. For they drove two kilometres, to the nearest branch of the bank that owned the ATM, placed the cash -- Rs.28,500 -- on the bank manager's desk and complained about their faulty machine.
"We could have lost a real lot that day," says the manager. "This is the kind of honesty we can only dream about. A human error made while loading cash in the ATM had caused the problem. Although we could have traced the customers, it might have meant a lot of trouble for us, had they kept our money."
But did either Mohammad Khan or Faisal Mukhi ever think of keeping the money during their moment with the magic machine? "Not once," says Khan. Adds Mukhi: "Never."
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