Lost/stolen safe deposit box; now what?
March 5, 2015 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Mom went to Citibank this morning to collect some items from her safe deposit box. Today, she opened it (with the employee's assistance, per the bank protocol), and they both discovered that the box itself was gone. We spoke at length with the branch manager, but they're refusing to give us any written affidavit or anything that we'd need to file an actual police report. Does anyone else have any info for situations like this? (Beyond lawyering up, which I'm ready to do!)

Additional info:

The last time she opened the box (per the written access logs) was October of last year.

Thanks, all!!!
posted by raihan_ to Law & Government (25 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Filing a police report seems like a good first step. Why do you need a written affidavit for that? Did the police refuse to take a report?
posted by zachlipton at 12:15 PM on March 5, 2015 [9 favorites]

yep, call the police and file a report and they'll walk you through everything you need.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:17 PM on March 5, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yeah, you don't need anything from them to go to the police. Did the branch manager have any explanation?
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:47 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You should ask for a copy (if you don't have one) of the agreement she signed when she first signed up for the box. May give you some sense of your rights, if any, and you should do this ASAP because there may be notice- or other claim-related deadlines in there. Also, what state are you in? Some states have statutes that determine the nature of the relationship between banks and depositors in bank safety deposit boxes.
posted by resurrexit at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

If she's in California (per your profile), there is definitely a rental agreement somewhere--it may have been mailed to her. You'll want to read this to see whether you have any recourse against the bank--you probably don't.
posted by resurrexit at 12:57 PM on March 5, 2015

Almost certainly a case of asset forfeiture.
Really, nobody else can touch safe deposit boxes.
posted by nedpwolf at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Assuming she has always been a Citibank customer and this is not the result of a bungled merge (and does not share the box with anyone else) there is a really short list of things that could have happened. The Office of the Comptroller of US Currency has this very short FAQ about safe deposit boxes. Your mom may have a claim against her homeowners insurance, or against the bank for negligence.

Pertinent questions would be

- was the safe deposit box paid off?
- was there a bank merger or move since the last time she accessed it?
- is there any reason for her to believe this was asset forfeiture?
- can you go above the head of the branch manager and get more details on what exactly was going on?

Basically you don't need anything form the bank to file a police report, and maybe the bank would be more forthcoming about what was going on if you got officials involved, but I'd check your mom's side of this first, there may be a reasonable explanation.
posted by jessamyn at 1:30 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Way back when (30 years ago), I had a customer walk off with her box. The way the locks work is that the door is opened with the customer's key and with the bank's key. In our case, once the box is removed, the keys are turned and removed and the door is left open, as the bolt is out. When the box is returned both keys are used to retract the bolt, close the door, and lock up again. If the box is not returned then the open door is a big flag that cannot be ignored.

What is the process at your bank? Is there any way that your mom could have left with the box last year and no one noticed? If not, this is a big mystery and the bank is liable for whatever contents you can assert were in it.
posted by Midnight Skulker at 1:55 PM on March 5, 2015

For what it's worth, even though banks say they can only open a box with both the customer's and the bank's keys, this isn't true --- I've had them open mine TWICE, both times when they were consolidating branches and notified me of the move after the fact. (And is why I switched banks....)
posted by easily confused at 3:21 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: hey all-

filed a report w/ the bank. as many of you noted, a letter was not required to report it to the bank as well as LAPD... but will probably be helpful down the line. my mom put down a written statement and gave it to the LAPD and the bank (as well as keeping a copy for herself).

the branch manager's explanation did little to assuage us. the locker itself was totally empty--no box at all. based on that fact, LAPD is treating this as theft(!). they have also opened an investigation here.

i don't believe this is a case of asset forfeiture, nor a merger/acquisition scenario, but will check both possibilities as well as the rental agreement.

jessamyn, you're a champ :) thanks for all of that and everything. i'll check all the info you supplied, as well as a possible insurance claim.

(and yes, the box is paid.)

next step is trying to figure out how to replace her passport asap, as i booked her a ticket to india for next week... damnit.

will keep y'all posted.
posted by raihan_ at 3:38 PM on March 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having worked for a bank, the safety deposit boxes are the one of the branches potential biggest liabilities. If they are compromised the amount the owner may claim is unlimited and the owners word is all the proof required for the value of its contents. Therefore they have a reason not to be very helpful. This is an unforgivable lapse on their part. Contact every higher up. Good luck
posted by dsaelf at 3:51 PM on March 5, 2015 [12 favorites]

I'd consider a homeowners' claim to be a last resort -- you will almost certainly pay the price, in terms of a claims history and higher rates in the future. The bank really should bear the risk -- that's why you had a box at the bank, in the first place.
posted by Dashy at 3:54 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

I agree with Dashy re: claim as last resort. However, you should feel free to discuss the topic with your insurance agent, as they are on the hook if the bank doesn't make it right. If/when that happens, their lawyers may go after the bank. They may be able to apply pressure now. Go have a friendly chat with your insurance agent to see if they have any advice.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:00 PM on March 5, 2015

I hope you follow up here to tell us how the bank handles this.

I also hope the bank offers to pay for super expedited passport replacement service for your mom.
posted by amtho at 5:29 PM on March 5, 2015

Best answer: Did you get a copy of the log associated with the box? If you haven't yet, go get one immediately so you have proof that the box was there the last time she visited.
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:40 PM on March 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I normally wouldn't threadsit but this is ... fairly interesting and weird, to say the absolute least. I'll keep all of you updated, where possible.

"I also hope the bank offers to pay for super expedited passport replacement service for your mom."
Agreed, but I think I'm just going to take the ~$200 loss and rebook her flight. There's a whole host of costs that they're (potentially) liable for here that are literally (puts on sunglasses) outside the box.

"Did you get a copy of the log associated with the box?"
Yes, that was the first thing I asked for! Took photos of it.

Looked over the rental agreement and may need to lawyer up before this gets resolved. Might be wise to do so, lest the bank or PD drag their heels. Furthermore, looks like Citibank forces us into arbitration, rather than a proper trial, but we'll see, since the circumstances are... different.

As usual, suggestions appreciated. Thanks again, everyone; y'all are so helpful :)
posted by raihan_ at 7:30 PM on March 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Hey, just because it's an ancillary part of your problem: getting a quick passport is not hard in LA, via the passport office at the Federal Bldg. in Westwood. We did one for my kid in 24 hours. Hilariously, we did a non-rush one there for Mr. BlahLaLa and received it the very next day, via the regular mail, at our house. I have no idea how they did it that quickly. There are lots of AskMe threads about quick passport turnaround, too.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:44 PM on March 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: updates:

places i have contacted in the last 12 days; still awaiting responses things that would probably be helpful
  • a lawyer (YANML, but that would be nice. recommendations appreciated; we've contacted about 15-20 different offices in the last few days, to no avail)
  • a jewelry appraiser, since both bank and LAPD are requesting an itemized list, with approximate values
the good news
  • passports found at home
    • but decided to postpone the trip, so currently racking up change fees with Turkish Air; oh well...

posted by raihan_ at 10:33 PM on March 17, 2015

Response by poster: Update:

The bank found the box, in an open locker at the branch, nearly two weeks after the branch employee went through and checked each open locker at the branch...
posted by raihan_ at 11:27 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

omg. Thank you for the update. How maddening. Was everything in there safe and sound?
posted by alms at 11:37 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't know yet and honestly... I'm still very concerned.

Our stuff could still be missing, even though the box is (technically) found, and regardless, that was nearly two weeks of being utterly on edge. I wish the bank was more humane in their dealings here, to be honest.

I'll be going to the branch tomorrow with my mom and the LAPD investigator. More updates soon. Still very stressed here.
posted by raihan_ at 11:45 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Check your MeMail.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:57 PM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Update: Almost everything was in there safe and sound. Missing some jewelry and gold. Hopefully Citibank will be able to do the right thing for us here or at least address how an employee placed our box back in the wrong slot of their vault.

If you have a bank safe deposit box, please do check it. This was a severely rude awakening.
posted by raihan_ at 2:30 PM on March 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: Reached settlement after writing very terse/direct letters. Could not find a lawyer who would touch this case.

What worked from my post above:
  • Contacting both the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and the Office of Comptroller. If you think a bank is even remotely screwing you, contact those two institutions and keep good records. The letter I received from Citibank referenced both case numbers from those institutions. The detailed audit that lead to the banks' finding of the box was initiated per the CFPB.
  • Social Media. Twitter and Facebook were extremely helpful. Find your bank's social media accounts and get in touch firmly and repeatedly. They may not get back to you immediately, but be persistent.
  • Consumerist! Took them a while to get back to me, but they followed up with a couple valuable contacts, which I then used in tandem with the social media posts above. Don't go "doxing" an employee, but find the person who may be able to help you. Be firm, be polite and do not give up, even if they try to bore you with the extent of their contractual liabilities. (I wrote them once and then followed up very politely when they finally got back to me.)
What was difficult:
  • The bank asked for receipts/appraisals of items inside the box, as would be expected in such a case. The difficulty level here was that most of our items were from my mom's family (i.e. not based in the US).
  • If you're thinking about keeping valuables inside a safe deposit box, please try to have those supporting documents, no matter how impractical that may seem. If you have jewelry or other types of valuables, get those appraised; especially if they're the kinds of things that could be easily pocketed.
  • Timing: You have 30 days from the time the Consumer Finance Protection Board gets back to you to appeal/respond to them! Please set up a Gmail filter, text alerts or something to inform you when they send you a message.
  • Lawyers. Fighting a bank is tough. Most seem scared to even take the case. Some will talk if you have papers from the bank, though.
Other takeaways
  • Get your valuables (large and small) appraised asap, please!
  • It might be cheaper and more effective to maintain a list of valuables and just have a rider on your renters' or homeowners' insurance!
and again...

Check your safe deposit box!
posted by raihan_ at 1:57 AM on August 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Also quickly going through some peoples' initial responses, in the hopes that my answers help someone in the future... marked the helpful ones with "best answer".

The police weren't of much help in this particular scenario, but you should still file a police report. Still wondering why the bank didn't file one, since the box is technically "their" property (you're just renting it!), but I'll leave that question to the cosmos/ether/whatever.

The branch manager wasn't of much help either (note: this is me being polite and a major overstatement), but you can always escalate upwards to corporate, even though a safe deposit issue is technically to be resolved "within" the branch itself.

Reading over a copy of the rental agreement was very helpful and I'd also caution that the rental agreement may be updated in the time since you first signed it: If you can find the original copy (thankfully we had ours) and compare it to any current revisions, that is a strong way to make your case!
posted by raihan_ at 2:13 AM on August 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older Excel 2013 - Using data from two columns to...   |   Reslip a slide Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.