Just how common is common sense?

Yesterday I ran an AML update workshop for a group of local accountants, and we had a couple of good debates about specific points of legislation and regulation – well, I enjoyed them anyway, but then I could dissect this subject forever.  One of the questions was this: if you have a client who is overpaid by one of his clients, and makes no effort to repay that over-payment, should you make a SAR?  Given the slightly special position of accountants with regard to overseeing their clients’ financial well-being, I was of the view that you should point out the error to your client and encourage them to contact their client and arrange repayment.  If your client refuses outright to do this, or if – more likely – when you next visit them it turns out that they have done nothing proactive to rectify the situation, then you might want to consider that they are knowingly keeping money that is not their own, which might give rise to a SAR.

Over dinner, I explained this to my husband.  (I know, I know, it’s all glamour in the Grossey household.  If you’re ever invited, you might want to think twice.)  And he said that he thought it wasn’t that clear.  He said that most people – i.e. applying common sense in its original form – would not consider the keeping of an over-payment to be theft.  It would come into the category of “finders keepers” and jolly good luck.  If you found a tenner on the floor and took it in to your local police station, he suggested, they would laugh you out of the place.  “What if it was £500?” I asked over the spaghetti.  “Or a gold Rolex watch?  Or the keys to someone’s car?  Is there a limit to finders keepers?”

I do realise that I am fairly judgmental when it comes to money laundering: in my opinion, all crimes are bad, and laundering is one of the worst as it enables all the others.  But perhaps my position is not the common one.  What do you think?  Is money that falls into your lap now yours, or would keeping it be – in effect, when it comes to looking at the proceeds and the laundering thereof – theft?

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One Response to Just how common is common sense?

  1. Claire says:

    Well, to start with, you are a very good dinner companion. I had a similar situation with my then 11 year old son at a shop around the corner of my house in Brussels. A household appliance shop run by North Africans. And even though a lot of people are xenophobe and accuse them of all kinds of crimes, I found all these shopkeepers to be very kind, honest and would give great customer service. Something that any British expat will tell you is rare in Belgium. I bought a flashlight and paid. Put the change in my wallet and left. As we stepped outside, my son said: mom, he gave us the wrong change, he gave 10€ too much. I went straight in again, and returned the money. The shopkeeper was happy. And my son learned about honesty. I admit I have not always been this honest. But with two teenagers, and realizing I must be a good example for them, I am doing my very best now. Small events like this one escalate into bigger ones. Because at what point is the amount big enough to call it theft? If you know who the money (or valuable object) belongs to, or if it can be traced back to someone, it should always be returned.

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