Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The ATM Ate My Money...

Ever wonder just how secure your money is once you stick in and envelope and pass it on through the ATM? I have. But it's just an unknown that I'd learned to live with. And I will try to continue to trust that it usually works without kinks... but it might take some time to get over my latest mishap.

A few weeks ago I lost $80 in cash in/at/around/though an ATM. I had gone to an ATM to deposit the money one day and found the ATM under maintenance. I decided not to go into the bank to do the transaction because I had three little children in tow and just didn't want to deal with that. So, I came back the next day instead. I remember pulling my money out, looking around to make sure that no one was watching me, and sticking it in the deposit envelope. I distinctly remember thinking that it was quite interesting that I could just put money in there and it would go to my account without any real evidence that I actually put the money in there. And how does my envelope stay with my transaction info? Oh well, finished the transaction and left.

The Story
About a week later I received a letter from my bank telling me that the deposit envelope was empty and that $80 was deducted from my account. What?! Why didn't they call me before the $80 was deducted? That would have been nice. I felt robbed. As I should. I don't have those $80 anymore. So who does? I figured I had a responsibility to report it. After all, what if this was happening to others? But, I knew that I had no evidence that I put money in the envelope, so the chances were slim that I would get my money back.

I called my local bank branch and they went ahead and credited my account $80 while they conducted an investigation. About a week and a half later I received a letter from the Bank (this is a large bank, so it was from headquarters) telling me that the investigation had been conducted and that the deposit envelope was indeed empty. Therefore, they would be withdrawing the $80 from my account on a future date (in two days... would have been nice to have that warning the first time they took money out!). If I wanted to look at the documentation used in the investigation, the letter said, I could just call their 24 hour number.

At this point, I was consigned to the fact that I'd been robbed and that I would most likely not be getting the money back. But, I was very intrigued as to how such an investigation was conducted so I called the Bank. This is were the fun started. The nice customer service representative told me he had no idea how I could get the investigation documentation and that he didn't know how they investigated these things. He told me to call my local branch. I asked the rep, "What is a person to do? How can they trust ATMs? How can I make sure this didn't happen to me again?" His answer: "Don't use ATMs to deposit money." Okay, I thought that was one of their purposes. Oh well.

I call my local branch. The assistant manager tells me that they don't know anything about the letter that I received and that they don't know how the investigation was conducted either. The lady who was handling my case is on vacation... so they didn't even know that an investigation had been initiated. They tell me they'll call me back. "Wait," I ask, "how often does this happen? Can I trust an ATM again? I was talking to a rep at the 24 hour hotline and he said not to use ATMs to deposit money. Would you agree with that?" Her response: "Absolutely not. Just get to know me." What is that supposed to mean? That would require that I go into the bank to do my transactions, therefore defeating the convenience of an ATM. I didn't press her anymore. She did go on to say that empty envelopes happen quite a bit. Okay... (I'm feeling less and less sure of either my bank branch or ATMs. I'm not sure which.)

I get a call back from the branch manager. She is just as confused as everyone else. I go through the whole story from start to finish. I just tell her that I've come to grips with the fact that I won't get my money, but that I am very curious to know about how the investigation was conducted. She didn't know... after all, she didn't even know that it had been conducted. But, in order to stop spending time on this, I suppose, she called it a loss for the Bank and said she'd make sure the $80 stayed in my account because I'm a "long-time customer" in "good standing." I told her that I had lost my confidence in ATMs and wondered how often this sort of thing happens. She told me that this was the second time she's seen it happen in 23 years. But the the assistant manager said it happens all the time... I didn't tell her that.

The End
I have my $80. I still have no idea how the investigation was conducted... and will probably never know. I have decided that for me personally, I will limit my ATM use because now I'm paranoid. Maybe I'll start using it all the time like I have for the last 13 years once I get over the paranoia.

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