Dear Liz: Please remind your readers to regularly check on their safe deposit boxes, particularly after a bank merger. Our bank was recently taken over by a larger one, and I could not believe what happened. Even though I have an active checking account and am a “preferred” customer, the bank claimed that my box had been closed and no one could find my signature card (which I had signed within the last year to access the box).
Rather than contact me, the bank was about to turn the contents over to the state. I was treated poorly and was forced to identify contents of my box in front of bank employees.
I did not think bank employees were ever supposed to be allowed to view contents of boxes, and I am extremely distressed and horrified by the entire experience. But if I hadn’t checked, I could have lost precious family heirlooms. If you have any suggestions as to how to make banks more accountable for these types of errors, please do let me know.
Answer: Banks are supposed to try to contact customers before turning a safe deposit box’s contents over to the state unclaimed property department, but as you’ve discovered those efforts sometimes fall quite short.
You can make a formal complaint to whatever state or federal agency regulates your bank. You can call the bank and ask, or visit the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s website at http://www.ffiec.gov and click on “National Information Center” to access a searchable database. You also can contact your lawmakers and push for legislation that would hold banks more accountable for this kind of error.