We cannot do without ATMs today, but at the end of the day, it is a machine. And like all machines, it can glitch out. For Dan Saunders, a bartender from Australia, such an ATM glitch did take place. But the special thing about it is that he became a millionaire because of it (albeit for a very short time)!
The story was first recounted by Saunders on VICE’s “Extremes” podcast in 2020. In 2011, Saunders was out partying, drinking, and generally having a fun night out with his friends in Wangaratta – the town where he lived. He was at the bar when he needed to withdraw some more cash. So he stepped out and found the closest ATM. When he started using it, though, he noticed something strange: the ATM was letting him withdraw a lot more than what he had in his bank account.
Then Saunders messed around with the glitch for a little while to see if it wasn’t him imagining things. Needless to say, it was an actual glitch. So he decided to take full advantage of it.
What Was The ATM Glitch Actually?
At the ATM, at first, he wanted to see how much he had in his account but the ATM kept telling him that it could not show him the balance at the time. Then, he tried to transfer $200 from his credit account to his savings. However, the machine reported that the transaction was canceled and then returned the card.
Saunders found that really weird, and tried to withdraw $200 from his savings account directly. The ATM promptly gave him the cash and he went back to drink. But the whole sequence of events did not leave his mind for the rest of the night. When he was leaving he passed the ATM, so he decided to try his luck again.
He transferred $200 again, and then withdrew it. Then he did the same with $500 and then $600, and the money came out again. The bored and tipsy Saunders just kept pushing his luck and it just kept working!
Apparently, between 1 AM and 3 AM, the ATMs got disconnected from the internet as well as the bank. This meant that a delay took place from when the withdrawal took place to when the system in the bank documented the transaction. As a result, he could “create” the money. Here is Saunders’ own explanation of the glitch:
“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 realized ATMs go offline.
…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.”
Life As An Illegal Millionaire
Saunders said that being able to own millions simply pressing some keys was quite addictive for him. At first, he did very simple things like depositing about $1000 in his joint account with his wife. Then he mostly spent it on a variety of things, mostly parties, but also paying for some friends’ college tuition.
He said that with enough money and imagination, it is possible to make even the wildest of dreams come true. He also had a valuable experience to share: “People who think you’ve got money, they treat you differently”.
As for the people close to him, some supported him while others kept their distance, pointing out that Saunders was doing something illegal. He also did not let his family know. As for people he just met, he just lied about his occupation. Surprisingly, Saunders says that no one seemed to care where the money came from.
The ATM Glitch Had To Come To An End
After months of feeling guilty and anxious over this ATM glitch, Saunders finally asked himself what he stood for. He knew the only way he could get out of this without being caught is if he just magically vanished one day. Saunders did not want to do that to his family. He had even thought about moving to Majorca, in Spain, and depositing his fortune into casinos. But no, he decided to be better than that.
So Dan simply stopped going to the ATM after doing it for 5 months. He contacted the bank who told him that the police were handling it and that he was in trouble. But nothing happened after that for 2 years. He visited a psychiatrist to treat his guilt and anxiety who told him that turning himself in would be important.
So he told his story to several media outlets. Only after being featured extensively by the media, did the authorities take the matter seriously. But even at court, he only got a 1-year sentence and then “allowed out on an 18-month community corrections order.”
Saunders then returned to his bartending job. Dan Saunders learned first-hand that “faced with temptation it’s easy to lose your true self.”
If you want to listen to the full Vice Extremes podcast episode, check this out!
- Vice Extremes Podvcast – Episode 26 – “The ATM Glitch Millionaire.” Spotify. April 2020.
- “Australian bartender tells the story of how he once spent $1.6 million in 5 months after discovering an ATM glitch.” Business Insider. Jessica Snouwaert. April 29, 2020.