When a bank error gave unlimited cash, Dan Saunders splashed out on private jets and flash hotels. But he knew it wouldn't last. He recently told his story to News.com.au.
I have had millions of dollars run through my fingers.
I lived like a high roller but now, once again, I'm working in hospitality for $22 an hour. And I can honestly say I'm as happy and content as I have been in a long time.
In 2011, I was working in Wangaratta, in Victoria's north-east as a barman.
One night I went to a National Australia Bank ATM and discovered I could transfer almost unlimited money into my savings account from my Mastercard.
I had no idea why this happened, or how, and I still don't. No-one has been able to explain it — least of all the bank, even when I went to court. All I know is that it worked. For the next four-and-a-half months, I pushed it to the limit every day. And neither the bank nor the police did anything to stop me.
I went on a huge spending spree, throwing money on luxury hotels, private jets, great restaurants and buying high-end fashion I would never normally afford. Sometimes I would walk into a bar and shout the whole bar.
For me, it was never about the money. It was about experiences and what I could do with this magic ATM card. What the bank inadvertently offered me was like one of those choose your own adventure books. I didn't know how long it would last and expected it to end every day. So, I just resolved to keep going until the bank put a stop to it, but they never did.
After four-and-a-half months, I voluntarily stopped making the transfers myself. I had always intended to be accountable for my actions — that's why I didn't transfer millions of dollars of the bank's money overseas and simply abscond to some tropical island hideaway. I could have done that very easily and had even planned how I would do it.
A lot of people have asked me why I didn't become an international fugitive, but that would have meant leaving my family and friends behind and forever looking over my shoulder. I could never see my mum again or do simple things, like watching the footy at the MCG or talking crap with my mates over a few beers. Through this crazy experience, I discovered what is most important to me, and it's not money or pretending to be something or someone I am not. Real, ordinary life with my family and friends was truly invaluable.
Now it's over, I have no desire to return to that high-flying lifestyle. I had seen people in that life across the bar and I had wanted to experience it, but the grass isn't always greener on the other side. I also wanted to give my friends a taste of it, so I asked them what their dreams were and made them come true. I guess you could say that my dream was to see people having a great time and living out their fantasies.
It's a bit disappointing to me that most of the friends who I entertained during this time have dropped off, fearing the consequences of being associated with a convicted criminal. They were never at risk, they were simply along for the ride, so I thought they would give me a bit of moral support when I went to jail. Some however have stayed loyal, so I guess I learnt a lot about friendship through this experience too. A true friend goes through the sweets and the sours of life with you.
I have also learnt a lot about myself. When I was doing the transfers, I had a string of women across Australia and each one thought that she was the one. Before this, I was a one-woman guy.
I was dating a religion teacher, not that I'm religious at all but I placed value on my morals and how I treated people. The money changed all that. I didn't like what I saw in the mirror by the end. When it ended, I just disappeared and it hurt people I had met who I actually cared about. So, when I was in jail, I wrote to some of them to explain what had happened and who I really was. It felt right. I needed to reclaim my identity.
People say I was crazy to go the media and do stories that dared the police to come after me, but I needed to resolve this issue one way or another.
And that's what I did. Jail was hard, I saw a man killed in there, but losing my liberty was also a part of the overall experience. At times, I felt like I was in a reality show, but I got through it and life is once again my own. I was worried that if I didn't front up, sometime in the future there would be a knock on the door and whatever I had built up would be taken away from me. That wasn't a risk I was prepared to take. I wanted to make things right.
Now I'm through all that and I have these amazing memories to show for it. I'm in a new relationship with someone who accepts me for me, not some kind of fantasy, but for who I truly am. Sure, sometimes life can seem a bit mundane and boring after what I experienced, but that's OK. Not everything in life needs to be totally exhilarating, and there's a lot of joy to be found in normal, ordinary life.
So, I'm back behind the bar, just as poor as when I started, and I couldn't care less. The future looks bright because it's all mine.
His story is the subject of a new podcast, ATM Boy.