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How can safe deposit box horror stories be avoided?

Jul 19, 2007 | | Comments Comments Off

Dear Liz: You’ve written a couple of times about how safe deposit boxes don’t necessarily keep your valuables safe. We wanted to tell you our story.

We recently went to put some papers into one of the two boxes we maintain at a bank where we’ve been customers for more than 20 years. We were given the box and I almost fainted when I discovered it was empty.

Apparently it had been drilled in error. After a week of searching, bank employees found part of our box contents tied up in a plastic bag. But property was missing that was historic, personal and irreplaceable. We had papers in there with our names on them, but apparently no effort was made to contact us.

It is a horrifying situation that a bank can be so casual and apparently unconcerned with property that most people assume will be secure. This should be made public more often.

Answer: As you’ve read here before, banks are required by law to make an effort to contact box owners before a safe deposit container is drilled and emptied, but sometimes those efforts are pretty cursory. (The fact that you were longtime customers and that your names were on papers in the box shows just how cursory.)

Some readers say they’ve tried to prevent situations like yours by putting their full contact information on a sheet of paper atop the contents of their boxes. In any case, you also should check on your box a couple of times a year and ask your bank during those visits whether you’re up to date on your box rental fees.

Many times, after a merger, banks begin to charge customers who used to have free box rental. Longtime customers may assume the charges don’t apply to them, because they’ve had free rental for so long, and fail to pay the bill. The bank could then decide the box has been abandoned and drill it open.

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