Monday, March 2, 2009
Help Me Howard: Safe Deposit Box
By definition, a bank's safe deposit box is supposed to be safe, but one South Florida woman says hers was anything but after she opened it to discover missing money. The question: Is the bank responsible for her loss? Here's Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- Kim Sullivan: "It's a medi-spa, and we do cosmetic injections. We also do facials."
Kim's business is beauty, and even when the economy is bad, many people still want to look good.
Kim Sullivan: "We have been blessed. We have been doing OK with our patients."
OK with her patients but losing her patience with her bank.
Kim Sullivan: "We had some break-ins in our neighborhood, so my husband and I decided that we should open a safety deposit box."
Kim rented the safety deposit box at a bank near her home, putting away some jewelry, important paperwork and, Kim says, two envelopes with some cash.
Kim Sullivan: "It was exactly $2,000. There was $1,000 in each envelope."
But when Kim opened the safety deposit box in February, the two envelopes were not there.
Kim Sullivan: "I brought it to the bank manager's attention, and he said this has never happened in 20 years."
Two thousand dollars gone, but how could it have happened? Both Kim and the bank hold separate keys, both of which are needed to open up her safety deposit box. Kim has a theory.
Kim Sullivan: "I think it is possible that my box might not have been locked when I thought it was locked, and after I left anyone, possibly an employee, could have just opened the box and taken the money out."
But the bank's log doesn't even show she was there when she opened the box in December, so proving who might have taken it seems a long shot.
Kim Sullivan: "There is no way to trace the money. It is my word against their's."
A long shot, but Kim wants the bank to pursue it for their customer's sake.
Kim Sullivan: "I really want to find out who did this, and, yes, I would love to get the money back, but I would like to know who did this."
But is the bank responsible if something goes missing from a safe deposit box, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "Who is responsible for the security of your safety deposit box? The bank. Who is responsible for proving that the bank was negligent and someone opened the box? The customer. In other words, the customer has to prove the money was put in the box and the bank allowed it to be taken, and proving that without a witness is extremely difficult."
When we contacted the bank, a representative told us, we can't talk about this specific incident, but she said it takes both the bank and the customers' keys to open the box and lock the box so it is foolproof. She said it is almost physically impossible to open a box without the customer's key. There is surveillance of the inside of the bank but not inside the vault, so what happened? Do you have any guesses, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "There are several possibilities. Kim thinks she put the envelopes back in the box, maybe she left them out and the next customer or a bank employee put it in their pocket or someone made a copy of Kim's key and opened the box, or a bad bank employee has made copies of customers' keys. We will probably never know what happened."
Kim will never know, but she does know one thing, her valuables are coming home.
Kim Sullivan: "I think it may be more secure to keep it in your home and in your own care."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, if you have a safety deposit box, just be careful. Never let the box out of your sight, and when you lock it up, make sure the box is securely closed. By the way, your money at the bank is insured by the FDIC, but not the contents of your safety deposit box. If you want it insured, you can get it through your homeowner's insurance."
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