AN unemployed single mother with just 35 cents became a multi-millionaire for a few hours after her bank mistakenly deposited over €18m into her account.
When Laura Hughes (32) from Athenry, Co Galway, checked her Ulster Bank account on Thursday morning to see if she had received her carer's allowance for her disabled son, she was left lost for words when she realised she had €18,099, 425.99 in 'available funds'.
"I nearly died," said the mother of two young sons.
"Before I went to bed on Wednesday night I had 35c in my account, but when I checked on Thursday morning I thought I was seeing things. First I thought it was €18,500 but I quickly realised I had over €18m in the bank," she told the Irish Independent last night.
"I don't work, I'm a full-time carer to my two kids aged seven and four.
"I rang all my family straight away to tell them and I just assumed it was an error. I have internet banking on my phone and I kept checking to see if I still had the money.
"Then as a test I decided to transfer €9,000 from that account into another account, just to see if it would work. I started to really panic when it worked and everyone was telling me to run off and spend it."
Overwhelmed by her newfound wealth, Ms Hughes decided to splash out on a new Nissan Micra car, and spent the morning test driving a number of flashy motors.
"I actually went into a Nissan dealership in Galway to buy a car worth €8,950 and I was so close to going through with it. I had visited two other dealerships before that. I have a battered car at the moment with no windows in it and it's falling to bits.
"I've been saving for a car for years and I was so tempted, you have no idea. But my gut instinct wouldn't let me do it."
Her wealth was short-lived, however, as the bank immediately shut down her account once they learnt of their costly blunder.
"The money was in my account for five hours. I went in to see somebody in the bank but they said they didn't have time to see me.
"But when I told her what it was about she ran off to get the manager and he immediately freaked out.
"They kept me there for about an hour trying to figure out what was going on and how it happened -- they were completely panicked. The bank told me it was simply human error. One of their employees opened up an overdraft facility for me of €20m.
"My youngest boy, Shay, is four and has autism. Cian is seven today and I bought him a go-kart. I keep thinking of all the things I could have bought him if I had all those millions in the bank. It was a nice dream while it lasted!"
Banking expert Thomas O'Malley, from McDowell Purcell solicitors, says that had Laura gone off on a spending spree, she would have been liable to repay the money in full.
"That money was not hers, it was clearly an error. There was no intention to pass ownership of the money to her so on that principal she didn't have title to the money. If she had spent any of it she would have had difficulties and the bank would have been entitled to come after her," he said.
Ulster Bank issued a short statement yesterday, saying: "We can confirm an administrative error occurred on a customer's account. This error has since been rectified."