First National Bank on Wednesday morning confirmed the unlikely stories its clients started to share on Tuesday: free money in their accounts.
The bank said an error meant balances had been reflected incorrectly in some accounts.
The highest reported though unconfirmed amount to date is R3,600 but anecdotal evidence suggests a very large number of customers saw lesser amounts, of around a few hundred rand, mysteriously appear in various bank accounts.
First National Bank (FNB) clients have no choice but to pay back money that is in their accounts but shouldn't be, a lawyer says.
"Once the mistake has been found and has been made clear that it was a mistake, the bank has a course of action under the law of unjustified enrichment," senior banking and finance lawyer at Werksmans Attorneys, Danny Andropolous, tells Business Insider South Africa.
Some FNB customers found themselves a hundred – and in some cases thousand – of rands richer on Tuesday after incorrect balances were reflected on their accounts. According to the bank's transactional banking spokesperson, Daniel Kaan, this was as a result of delayed debit card transactions of the customers concerned.
Customers who received money in this way have been unjustifiably enriched, says Andropolous, and their choices are limited.
"They would have no legal basis to keep the money and would be under a legal obligation to repay the money once they have been notified of the error," he says.
This rule also applies to those who would have notified the bank of its error and were given an all clear for the mistake.
Andropolous says that customers can attempt to defend against FNB's claim, "but they depend on the specific facts of each case."
It is not clear how much the bank has paid, or if the glitch was as a result of a system update it conducted over the long weekend.
In mid-2018 Sibongile Mani, a Walter Sisulu University (WSU) student who accidentally received more than R14 million from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), went on trial for theft after allegedly going on a spending spree with the money.
In 2004 the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that money paid into a bank account by mistake could be recovered – with interest, and legal costs.
First National Bank is a client of Werksmans Attorneys, but Andropolous commented on the law in its general application and with no specific reference to FNB's current situation.