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Dan Saunders and The $1.6 million ATM Glitch

Imagine if your bank ATM card suddenly started giving you cash even though you had nothing in your account. Not just a few dollars, or even a few thousand, but hundreds of thousands over the course of several months. What would you do?

You’d know it was wrong. You’d know it was illegal and that somewhere down the line you’d probably have to face the consequences. But seemingly free cash? Many of us would find that hard to resist.

That’s what happened to a young Australian man named Dan Saunders in 2011. This is his story.

Dan Saunders in a luxury hotel.

The Beginning

In early 2011, 29-year-old Dan Saunders was working as a barman in the town of Wangaratta, three hours north of Melbourne, Australia. One evening he went out for a few drinks with a friend.

The agreement was that the friend would pay for the drinks during the first half of the evening, and Dan would pay after that. But when it became his turn to pay, Dan realised that he didn’t have much cash on him.

He took his National Australia Bank (NAB) card to a nearby ATM. He was, he later explained, “more than a little tipsy” by that time.

He inserted the card and discovered, to his dismay, that he had just $3 in his account. One of the options that the ATM offered was a transfer of funds from his credit account to his bank account.

In desperation (and probably because he’d had a few drinks), Dan attempted to use this feature to transfer $200 to his account. He wasn’t surprised when a “Transaction cancelled” message flashed up on screen.

However, he was stunned when he saw that the balance in his account now stood at $203. He took some of the cash out and returned to the bar to enjoy the rest of the evening.

On the way home, after several more drinks, he passed another ATM. He stopped and tried again to transfer funds to his account. Once again, the machine told him that the transaction had been cancelled.

But his bank account showed the addition of another $200. He tried again, this time transferring $2,000 to his account. Then he went home to bed.

The following morning, he checked his account and was stunned to discover that he was over $2,000 in credit. That was how it began.

Four Months Of Spending

Dan wasn’t a thief. Up to this point in his life, he had never been involved with the police and hadn’t received as much as a speeding ticket. Initially, he seems to have been driven as much by curiosity as anything else.

He soon spent his original $2,000 windfall, so he returned to the ATM and transferred another $2,000. And then he did it again. And again…

Even Dan wasn’t certain precisely how the glitch worked. At first, he believed that the glitch only worked in the early hours of the morning when the ATM was offline.

Later, he discovered that it worked at any time of day and at any ATM. What he would discover was that after a time, his balance would catch up and show the money he had transferred.

Dan became aware of this when he became nervous and stopped transferring cash at the ATM. After a few days, to his horror, his bank account was $20,000 overdrawn and frozen!

At that point, Dan made a decision that would change his life: he used the ATM glitch to transfer $60,000 to his account. Immediately, his account showed $40,000 in credit.

He now understood that if he stopped making these transfers, the system would catch up, and he would be massively in debt. But he could stay ahead as long as he made new transfers every day.

Dan’s girlfriend, a teacher at a local Primary School, became increasingly concerned about the amount that Dan was spending and the fact that he seemed to visit ATMs so often.

Although the two had planned to get married, she ended the relationship. After the breakup, Dan’s spending quickly went off the clock.

He began to pay for the company of women and to take friends on exotic short breaks, on one occasion chartering a helicopter to take a small group to a $2,000 per night luxury hotel.

Dan Saunders in Paris, France.

All of this was funded by daily visits to the ATM to transfer larger and larger amounts.

Bizarrely, the bank didn’t seem concerned. They would occasionally call Dan to confirm it was him who had used the card when it was used to charge unusually large amounts, but as long as he confirmed, there didn’t seem to be a problem.

On one occasion, a member of staff from the bank called to ask why Dan had tried to withdraw $900,000 from an ATM the previous night? He told them he had been drunk and had probably pressed the wrong buttons. They laughed…

A Guilty Conscience

Less than three months into his spending spree, Dan began to have health problems. He was seriously overweight, couldn’t sleep, and began to suffer from panic attacks that were so severe that he needed medication to deal with them.

After 4½ months, with his anxiety worsening, Dan decided to stop. He estimated that by that time, he had spent over $500,000 that wasn’t his, a sum he couldn’t hope to repay.

Dan knew that when he stopped making the transfers, the bank would recognise that he was massively in debt. To his surprise, nothing happened other than his account being closed.

The following month, he called the bank. The bank implied that they knew what he had been doing but refused to talk to him because they claimed they had handed the matter over to the police. Dan waited, but nothing happened.

For three more years, nothing continued to happen.

Dan’s anxiety was still a major problem, and he began to see a psychiatrist, but that didn’t help – the therapist simply told him to turn himself into the police.

Dan needed to talk to someone about what he had done – he had told friends and family that the money had come from stock and share trading and successful betting, and nobody knew what had really happened.

Dan spoke to the newspapers and they ran the story. Then he appeared on an Australian national current affairs television show, The Current Affair, and explained precisely what he had done.

Suddenly, the police were very interested, and in 2014, Dan was charged with over 100 counts of fraud and theft.

In Court

In 2015, Dan Saunders finally found himself in court, which proved just as surreal as the earlier experience.

The bank clearly did not want to provide details of how he had obtained so much money, though the bank officials stressed that the “loophole” had been fixed.

It was clear that neither the prosecution nor the judge understood what had happened, though it was obvious that $1.6 million from NAB had somehow found its way to Dan’s account.

How much of that he had actually spent wasn’t clear, and the bank never officially confirmed this, though an unnamed bank source told the press that it was around $300,000. 

In Australia, as in most other countries, “larceny by finding” is a crime. That means that simply keeping money or items you have found is illegal, even if you don’t actually steal them yourself. That was what Dan Saunders pled guilty to.

He was sentenced to spend 12 months in prison and to serve a further 18 months under a community corrections order. He was also ordered to pay NAB $250,000 in compensation. After leaving prison, he once again found work as a barman.

Dan Saunders working as a barman.

He also took the time to write his story. The Glitch originally appeared as an 8-part podcast narrated by Dan and a movie version, Cashout! (tagline: Dan’s going to jail someday, but not today), is currently in pre-production.


For a few short months in 2011, Dan Saunders enjoyed the kind of lifestyle most of us can only imagine: lavish parties, private jets, designer clothes, luxury hotels and expensive restaurants.

He admitted just how good that initially felt in a 2023 interview: “Being able to make your account balance move up into the millions by the stroke of a key was a very addictive thing; I felt like a caveman discovering fire!”

But he would claim that all that seemingly free cash did not make him happy. In fact, it did the precise opposite. While he was transferring the money, anxiety was a major issue.

For the three years that he waited for the bank and police to catch up with him, his real life was on hold. He couldn’t go back to his previous lavish lifestyle but couldn’t settle into a more mundane life either.

He claims that he is far happier now that he has served his time in prison and is once again working as a barman and leading a completely normal lifestyle.

Dan Saunders certainly broke the law, but he is far from a typical criminal. Faced with the kind of temptation that he was, especially in these difficult times, how many people might have reacted in the same way?


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