We asked Dan Saunders to describe the loophole and his five months of partying.
Dan Saunders was out drinking in his home town of Wangaratta, three hours north of Melbourne, when he stumbled upon a bank glitch that briefly made him rich. He’d left the bar to get cash and discovered an ATM that was allowing him to withdraw way beyond his balance. And after a bit of trial and error the 29-year-old realised he’d found a loophole, and ran with it.
In a bender that lasted some five months, Dan managed to spend around $1.6 million of the bank’s money. He threw lavish parties, chartered private jets, and paid off his friends’ university fees, until—unsurprisingly—the police caught up with him.
We had a chat with Dan about his magic money tree: how it worked, how it felt to be an accidental millionaire, and what it’s like going back to being a bartender for $22 an hour.
VICE: Hey Dan, tell me about how this went down. What was the first withdrawal that made you realise something was up?Dan Saunders: Well I was on a night out, trying to get a balance on my account but it kept on giving the message “balance unavailable at this time.” So I transferred $200 from my credit account to my savings and it said “transaction cancelled” and spat the card out. I thought that was super odd, so I decided to try and get $200 out of my savings account just to see what would happen. It gave me the money so I went back to the bar and continued drinking.
After I left the bar I was walking home past the same ATM. I’d been thinking about how odd the whole thing was so I put the card in again and started playing around. I transferred another $200 and got the money out. Then $500, then $600, just to see what would happen. I think it was a combination of being tipsy and bored but I just pushed the envelope and tried again and again. It was like a magic trick.
Wait, so what was happening?Well the next morning I figured I must have dreamed the whole thing. But lo and behold, the money was in the wallet next to me. So I rang up to get a balance on my savings account, which was now $2,000 in debt. I figured there was a lag between what the ATM gave me and what my bank balance was, which meant that whatever I spent, I could cover it by doing a simple transfer every night between my credit account and my savings. I could “create” the money by doing a transfer between 1 and 3 in the morning, which is when I realised ATMs go offline.
So you just had to always stay one day ahead?That’s right. So on the first day I spent $2,000, but on the second day I transferred $4,000 to make sure my balance didn’t stay negative. The transfer at night would go through, then reverse one day later. But if you stayed ahead of that reversal by doing another one, you could trick the system into thinking you had millions. I later went to the bank, who told me my balance was $1 million. It was numbers on a screen going back and forth like yo-yos.
So what was the first thing you spent money on?First I gave the missus $1,000 or so for our joint account, then shouted a few rounds behind the bar. Being able to make your account balance move up into the millions by the stroke of a key was a very addictive thing; I felt like a caveman discovering fire.
Is partying like that as fun as everyone thinks?Yes. If you have imagination and money, you’re able to help people live their wildest dreams. It’s a super addictive fun thing to do, especially when the [ … ]