Today we'd like to discuss an issue that has to do with ethics. This might have happened to you before as well: a client sends the payment, you thank him or her for it, and then, for some reason, your receive the payment a second time. This can happen because of some error in bank transfer or because of a duplicate check, which is the 20th-century relic that American companies still prefer for payment. Either way, we are usually quite happy to receive the payment, but want to be paid only once. Now, if the customer pays twice, what should you do? The short answer: you should let the client know and give the money back.
This initially happened to us very early in our career, and getting twice the amount would have meant a worry-free month. This is a very big company with thousands of employees and complex accounting structures. It's quite likely that they would never have noticed this small error (a negligible amount by their standards). We hesitated for a fracture of a fracture of a second, but then immediately told the client they had paid us twice. The client was very impressed and told us that he would reward us for our honesty -- and he has, as he's been a client for almost 10 years. He did mention that there's no way he would have ever noticed the mistake, and the accounting department was unaware as well. We wired the second payment back to him and everyone was happy.
The second time it happened was a few weeks ago. A small, rural court paid Judy for her court interpreting services, and as Judy was logging the payment in our accounting software, she noticed that the amount was twice as high as it should have been. She promptly e-mailed the accounting folks, and they were quite happy to hear from her. She sent the check back (very low tech, we know) and they issued a new check within a few days.
Our advice: as tempting as it might be to keep the incorrect amount, it's essential to do the right thing and let the client know about the error. It might just result in a more loyal client, and you will definitely get karma points. It's also, without doubt, the ethically and morally correct thing to do. If this has ever happened to you, dear colleagues: how did you handle it? Please share your experiences!