If you receive something that isn’t rightfully yours, the right thing to do is return it. But how many of us could cheerfully do that if the something we received was close to half a million dollars?
Virginia Hopkins did.
About three weeks ago, Virginia received an envelope in the mail from the IRS, and eagerly opened it expecting to find a tax refund of $754 she had been waiting for. She found a check inside the envelope, but it wasn’t the $754 she was anticipating.
It was a check for $434,712.
Virginia, who has been a waitress at Johnny’s Downtown Restaurant in Cleveland since it opened 19 years ago, was surprised at the amount of the check. “I think I would have to work most of my life to earn that much money,” she said in an interview. Then, she laughed and added, “Even with undeclared tips.”
She said she never thought for even a moment about keeping the money, but she was uncertain how to return a check for almost a half a million dollars to the IRS. She took the check to work with her, where fellow employees and diners joined in a discussion of what Virginia should do. It was decided that the best plan was to take the check to the Cleveland IRS office.
So, the next day she did. “Would you believe I had to give them a photo ID to prove it was me before I could give it back?” she said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t even talk to me.”
Virginia was able to convince them that she was not trying to scam the government, and the IRS folks took the check, promising to investigate the error. However, Virginia will never know how she became so rich for a day because the IRS will not reveal to her the results of its investigation, citing privacy reasons.
Though she did not get rich from the experience, Virginia did gain some fame. A local TV reporter was eating at the restaurant when she came in with the refund check and her story ended up on the news. Did that get her better tips? “Last night was a good night,” she said the next day. “Please tell me fortune goes with fame.”
Not always, Virginia. Nor, apparently, does momentary fame bring a tax refund check. Last I heard Virginia still had not received the $754 refund check she is eagerly awaiting.
Yes, Virginia, your refund will arrive in time, but keep in mind that IRS does not stand for Instant Refund Service.