Bob meant to send a bank transfer to to his friend Boris Johnson, but instead sent it to Doris Johnson. Does he have a cause of unjust enrolment against the latter?

  • Are they the same person? Jan 3 at 14:53
  • 6
    @VanitySlug-codidact.com obviously, no. The question could be best formatted using standard actors, like Alice, Bob, and Charlie. It's good form to avoid political remarks when not strictly necessary. Jan 3 at 16:35
  • Though I wonder how it would change if he had instead sent it to BoRiS -of- <THE> fAm1lY johnSON (the settler-agent). Jan 4 at 1:07

2 Answers 2


Not only does Bob have an unjust enrichment cause of action to demand that the recipient return the money, but the recipient can be criminally prosecuted if they refuse. Refusing to make reasonable efforts to return property that was mistakenly made available to you is considered theft.

Party A intends to make a bank transfer to Party B. However, unbeknown to Party A, the funds have been mistakenly paid into the bank account of Party C. Party C has refused to pay the funds back. In this scenario, Party C has been unjustly enriched at the expense of Party A.


The money isn’t legally yours - so you’ll need to pay it back. Otherwise, you could end up being charged with ‘dishonestly retaining a wrongful credit’ under the Theft Act 1968 and civil action can be taken against you in county court.


[Note: you have to click on "What should I do if I receive a payment in error?"; doing ctrl-f for the passage will not work otherwise.]

This applies in other jurisdictions as well; here's an example from Pennsylvania: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/09/us/bank-deposit-error-couple-spending-spree-trnd/index.html

As noted in the comments, you should be careful about returning money that was allegedly sent in error. however. The cite I gave above is a case in which the recipients didn't attempt to notify the bank of the error, and instead withdrew the money and spent it. It's a common scam to send money through a reversible method, tell the recipient that the payment was erroneous and ask for it back through a nonreversible method, and then reverse the initial transfer. If you see a transfer that is likely erroneous, you should not withdraw the money, but instead notify the bank, and see if they can handle it.

  • 18
    Bank transfers can be reversed by the banks. It may be entirely reasonable for C to refuse to pay the funds back, out of fear that whether as part of a deliberate scam or not they end up paying back double what they got if they pay it back and the bank reverses the transfer. Asking people to do this is part of a well known scam.
    – bdsl
    Jan 3 at 14:26
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    Indeed. I was going to comment the same as @bdsl: while Bob should send back the money, he should do that by reversing the transaction (or asking his bank to do so), to avoid risks in case this is a scam.
    – Ángel
    Jan 3 at 14:54
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    @bdsl then call your bank and ask them to reverse the original deposit, or ask them for advice on how to proceed.
    – Aubreal
    Jan 3 at 14:55
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    Going to aggree with @bdsl as well. There is a specific scam that exists right now where people do just that... Though they usually say ("keep X back for your troubles"). Then reverse the transfer on their end when you transfer money to them... Please, please, contact your bank about this and let them deal with it.
    – Questor
    Jan 3 at 20:00
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    This gets more fun if party A happened to already have a debt owed to party C. I wonder if there are interesting corner cases where party C buys a debt owed by party A to some other party... Jan 4 at 13:42

Is a mistakenly sent bank transfer a cause for unjust enrichment?


This is one of the paradigmatic, textbook fact patterns justifying an unjust enrichment claim.

  • 5
    Initially I was about to complain about the lack of a statute citation, but this is so ubiquitous and well-accepted that one is not needed. Case law is abundant. One in particular, the Citybank case became so notorious because it was an exception to the rule that money transferred by mistake should be returned. Jan 3 at 16:45

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