It was 11 in the morning. Mohammed Rehan Khan replaced the ATM card in his wallet and counted the crisp new notes he’d just withdrawn from the machine. Rs. 6000? “This can’t be right!” thought the young and dashing civil servant. He counted again. It was indeed Rs. 6000. “All I’d asked for was Rs1200,” Khan told his friend Sohail Mukhi who was standing nearby, busy using the messenger on his Blackberry.
“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, beep!! Rs 5000 popped out and a little transaction slip that read WITHDRAWAL Rs 1000.
“Let’s try again,” said Khan. Card, password, 4-0-0-0——–beep! 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 1300. He pushed his card in and asked for Rs 1000. The machine spat out 5000.
“ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) are extremely secure and among the hardiest of machines. Look up the Encyclopedia Britannica for “ATMs” and you will find entered under “Locks”- it is virtually impossible to fool an ATM. And the probability of an ATM overpaying is virtually nil. But here they were, two buddies with Rs 26000 between them- Rs 20,800 of it was “free” money.
There were no other customers in sight on that warm June 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 is all mixed up,” they told him. The two men then gave the guard a demo: “look here,” said Khan as he inserted his card the last time and hits the buttons, “I’m withdrawing Rs 500…………. but here’s 2500!” “Don’t let anybody near this place,” they told the guard as they hopped into an auto rickshaw and sped off with all the money. It looked like a daylight robbery-in reverse. For they drove two kilometres, to the nearest branch of the bank that owned the ATM, placed the cash on the manager’s desk and complained about their faulty machine.
This is the kind of honesty we can only dream about. Had Mohammed Khan or Sohail Mukhi ever think of keeping the money during their moment with this “machine machine”? “not once,” says Khan. Adds Mukhi: “never”.