A safe deposit box gets its name for a reason --- it’s supposed to protect your valuables. Well, don’t think it’s failproof. Just read the headlines to know what can happen.
A recent CBS report is just the latest to spotlight the mistakes banks can make with safe deposit boxes. According to CBS, three Bank of America customers said they were “blindsided” when the bank recently drilled and emptied their safe deposit boxes without their permission or required notice. This was not a harmless mistake. The customers said the bank lost or damaged tens of thousands of dollars of property that went missing from the boxes. To make matters worse, the customers said the bank drilled the boxed due to missing account information that the customers said the bank already had.
One of the customer’s nightmare doesn’t end there. According to the CBS story, one couple said that after drilling the box, the bank shipped their nearly $100,000 worth of jewelry and irreplaceable possessions to a holding center on the east coast. When they got they valuables back, they arrived in a UPS box. The bank’s rental agreement says it may ship safe deposit box contents uninsured. When the couple opened the box, they said they were horrified to discover that bank employees had removed their delicate jewelry from the individual protective boxes and silk bags, and thrown all the jewelry together. How’s that for customer service.
Such tales give cause for concern for sure. So, what are the rules? Turn to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency for information. According to the OCC’s website, typically, banks use control systems to ensure that only authorized persons have access to safe deposit boxes. Banks want the safe deposit box renter to have access to and the ability to remove items from the box. The agency says that a bank may defend itself against a claim of unauthorized access or missing items by showing that its controls were followed.
The two main controls are dual control and authorized signature. What is dual control? It means two people—usually a bank employee and the renter—are required to open the box. This should work as a safety net, as no one person can ever open the box and remove the contents. When the safe deposit account is opened, all those who are authorized to access the box sign the signature card. After that, the bank can only let those signers access the box. From then on, the bank records the signature of any individual allowed to enter the box. The OCC recommends dual control which may be required by law, whenever a safe deposit box is opened without the renter’s permission such as a court order, rental delinquency on the box, branch closure or a search warrant, for example. Generally, the rule, according to the OCC, when a safe deposit box is opened by force, at least two people must be present to inventory the box’s contents. The bank will keep the contents in the vault.
There’s more than the bank to worry about. “In addition to theft from bank break-ins, flood and fire put vital documents and valuables stored in ‘safe’ deposit boxes at risk, as well,” says Chris Wong, CEO of LifeSite, which helps families organize and access important information electronically in its secure digital safe deposit box, LifeSite Vault.
Know too, that while your bank account may be covered by the FDIC, safe deposit boxes are not insured by the FDIC, says Wong.
Speak up. You can file a complaint about your safe deposit box on the OCC’s website. Be aware, however, that safe deposit box complaints are a low priority for the agency.