Are physical signature cards required for safe deposit box access?
July 22, 2015 12:55 PM   Subscribe

While accessing my safe deposit box at Bank of America, I discovered my branch has eliminated their paper signature card system. This concerns me, aren't banks required to maintain physical signature cards for safe deposit box access?

In the past, to access the box, I showed the teller my ATM card, my photo ID, the box key and signed a card which the bank kept on file behind the counter. The teller would compare my most recent signature to previous signatures on the card as well as to the signature on my drivers license.

However, when I accessed my box today, the teller asked for my ATM card, my photo ID and the box key. When I asked what happened to the signature card step, she said BOFA had eliminated them.

This bothers me, because as one of the holders of this jointly-held safe deposit box, the elimination of the signature card means the box holders no longer have a easily accessible record of when and by whom the box was accessed. It also seems to have eliminated a security feature by no longer requiring a signature.

So, I'm in the middle of writing an I HAZ A COMPLAINT letter to BOFA but also want to know what the actual legal requirements are, if any, for a bank offering safe deposit box services.
posted by jamaro to Law & Government (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I am not aware of any legal requirements for security requirements for a safe deposit box.

The only reference I could find for regulations on safe deposit boxes deals with accessing them after death of the owner. I believe this, because there's no particular reason for the state to regulate them.
posted by saeculorum at 1:00 PM on July 22, 2015

As far as ascertaining whether you're you, a hand-written signature being analyzed by someone who has no extensive training in identifying handwriting forgery seems like really lousy security and wouldn't, to me, seem to add much on top of having a valid photo ID that looks like you, which would be much harder to fake than a signature. From a legal perspective, usually, your signature is a mark of acknowledgment. Like, under the UCC: "any symbol executed or adopted with present intention to adopt or accept a writing". I don't think there's actually typically any obligation to even use the same symbol from one time to the next. Unconventional, but. I think a lot of law students, after taking commercial paper, go through a brief phase of using smiley faces and stuff as their signature at the grocery store, or maybe that's just people I knew.

I can't think of any reason particularly that they'd be required to maintain it physically even if they needed signatures, and this is one area where IANAL, etc, but do you seriously think they would have eliminated them if there was a legal requirement to have them? It's Bank of America; big banks might flout some laws but they don't generally just ignore the basic requirements of doing business. Given that your concern seems to be in large part about a record of access, did you ask them about getting that information another way? If that's the real problem, it might be something they can still do, or maybe another bank can.
posted by Sequence at 1:42 PM on July 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

Chase has switched over to a pin plus id for safe deposit access fwiw - so guessing signature not a legal requirement.
posted by leslies at 1:47 PM on July 22, 2015

Presumably they could still keep an electronic record based on your ATM card and photo ID. You could try asking for a copy of the access information and see what they can provide.
posted by zachlipton at 1:50 PM on July 22, 2015

I did ask for a record, the teller produced a printout after a 15 minute wait. It only showed today's visit, not any of the many previous visits—including one as recent as last May—the box holders have made in the 25 years this account has existed, as the cards did. The teller could not tell me how far back the electronic record would go under the new system.
posted by jamaro at 1:59 PM on July 22, 2015

You've already recognized that the signature isn't a great authentication mechanism, but it is a good audit trail system. It's surprising that the bank wouldn't maintain an audit trail indefinitely, given the low cost and complexity.

Personally I'd switch to a bank that had a system you trusted.
posted by odinsdream at 2:12 PM on July 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

More worrisome to me is that youre sharing a box with people whose access you care to keep track of. If you trust them it shouldnt matter.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 5:24 PM on July 22, 2015

If you trust them it shouldnt matter.

Or, someone died and you've inherited the box. Shit happens, you know?
posted by jamaro at 5:38 PM on July 22, 2015

More worrisome to me is that youre sharing a box with people whose access you care to keep track of.

Circumstances and people change. I would view the audit trail as a record of who the bank allowed to access the box, not when my co-holders opened it. If the bank can't give you an accurate record of who they have allowed to access the box then work towards moving to another bank, that isn't good enough in my opinion.
posted by N-stoff at 10:07 PM on July 22, 2015

The teller could not tell me how far back the electronic record would go under the new system.

This is a legit thing to contact the bank about by mail, definitely. You might at least get some fees waived or something if you fuss about them not having digitized the records from the cards. I expect the new electronic record will probably be fairly long--storing stuff like that is trivial--but while I don't think the new system is actually less secure, it sounds totally appropriate that you let them know that this transition wasn't handled well.
posted by Sequence at 6:24 AM on July 23, 2015

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