ATMfilter: How to prove my ATM really did give me the wrong amount?
January 29, 2007 2:06 PM   Subscribe

My credit union's ATM gave me too little money. It's a moderately small error, however, I have reason to believe this won't easily be resolved. How can I prove there was an ATM error, and what course of action should I take to get my money back?

Friday night my husband and I withdrew $200 via our credit union's ATM. In the stack of $20s was a five dollar bill, which meant we received $185 instead of $200. As it was the weekend I emailed their customer service, and followed up with a phone call when they opened today.

The employee I spoke to all but accused me of lying about the $15. She said said someone had printed out my email and given it to everyone in the CU, and the issue had already been referred to the president of the CU, who is supposed to call me back Wednesday. I got the impression the president is just going to tell me there's nothing they can do.

Since I had absolutely no idea where to even begin with this, I started reading previous ATM questions on MeFi. While I'm now convinced this is human error, I'm still not quite sure how to proceed with the CU. I'm concerned because I don't know how this $15 discrepancy can be proven. It seems like a situation where it's my word versus the ATM's. If this is a case of a $5 bill accidentally being placed in the stack of $20s, would the machine even detect the error? What sorts of things should have shown up when the CU looked into this situation?

Do you think it would be effective to give the CU suggestions on how to find the $15 error? It's a small CU in a small town, and I'm afraid they might simply not know what to do in this situation because it's never come up before. What kinds of suggestions can I make?
posted by smashingstars to Work & Money (31 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's a small amount, yes, but if they're giving the impression that they are going to treat you like a criminal or a liar about it (and be sure to tell 'the president' the detail about how your email was shared around the office), the best suggestion you could make would be to have it resolved quickly or you will give a ring to the local TV news--they love stories like this.
posted by troybob at 2:11 PM on January 29, 2007

Stay calm, tell the president you resent the implication that you're a thief and would like an apology from the clerk who was rude to you, invite them to review any camera footage together with you, and ask them to please think about how they fill the machine so this kind of error doesn't happen again in the future.

Then move on.
posted by mediareport at 2:20 PM on January 29, 2007

It was most certainly human error. Although it's been a while since I have worked at a bank I assume there must be a way that they can find your money.

Your account was debited $200 and your CU's ATM treasury was also debited $200 through the withdrawal. I assume a five dollar bill must have been included when the ATM was last filled. I remember filling the bank machine myself and I was by no means a careful/meticulous employee. Human error at any bank is not uncommon and is to be expected.

If you're lucky, they can look through their daily balancing and see if $15 mysteriously appeared out of no where, or if someone was $5 out. Whatever the case, you're in the right and just be persistant; because they won't be.

Any manager with the right frame of mind will be more than happy to credit your account for the $15 especially after hearing that your email was "passed" around the office.

Although I am confused as to why the "president" of the CU is getting involved?
posted by ageispolis at 2:21 PM on January 29, 2007

Keep up the pressure. Send you next letter to the president if necessary. They will know if that machine was short any cash at the end of the day, or at least when it was next serviced. They also have video. Ask that the video be preserved and that the information on the accounting of the ATM be preserved. No one is going to go to such lengths to lie about $15. Act as if the burden is on them to prove that you did not get $200, but be polite.
posted by caddis at 2:25 PM on January 29, 2007

If your CU has any interest in customer service, they ought to credit you the $15 and make a notation on your account, just in case you really are a thief, robbing the bank fifteen bucks at a time. (Genius!!). I have had a lot more than that in fees credited back to me just because I called and asked a question.

As others have said, be persistent and polite.
posted by clh at 2:30 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: ageispolis: I'm also confused about the president getting involved. They'd referred it to her before I even phoned today. Between that and the email, I suspect someone panicked and assumed I was trying to pull a scam. The lady I spoke with was very quick to get defensive.

To others: I agree about being persistent, but I admit I'm a bit wary. This is a small town, and with almost any business, if we have a problem, for the next several weeks/months employees will greet us with, "Oh, you're the ones who complained about getting a dead mongoose in your Cheerios!" Not looking forward to that kind of thing at the CU.
posted by smashingstars at 2:45 PM on January 29, 2007

ageispolis: based on your atm-filling experience, is it possible that an unscrupulous employee pocketed a 20 themselves, substituting a 5 out of their own pocket and leaving the count unchanged (from the CU's perspective)? Would this be on video somewhere, or is other some mechanism in place to ensure honesty?

If it's not an accident, maybe others have been similarly shorted.
posted by contraption at 2:48 PM on January 29, 2007

I once had a bank lose a significant (night) deposit through not following their own written practices. When they found my deposit bag, they credited my business account. But they never apologized for assuring me that my employee must have stolen the money, or for treating me shabbily when I complained and insisted they look harder.

The deposit feel out the back side of the drawer it had been put in. They are supposed to list all items in the night deposit box and check them off as they are processed. It took them several days to verify that, yes, my deposit was received, and to locate it

Banks make errors, like everybody else. Credit Unions have a Board of Directors that should be responsive to cistomers, even if the manager and president are not.
posted by theora55 at 2:58 PM on January 29, 2007

Banks have mechanisms and procedures to catch mistakes like this. By their very nature, banks have checks and balances. Someone, somewhere, will come up with $15 more than they ought to, and since you've alerted them to the problem, they will likely credit your account.

As for making you feel like you're a petty criminal... well, assuming you're sure you're not just feeling hyper defensive, then you might want to discuss the way the teller treated you when you speak with the bank president. I'm sure heads will roll.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:10 PM on January 29, 2007

Be persistent. Follow up. Ask to review the video. I recently pointed out two separate errors at my bank and was credited approximately $225. People who take the time to write letters/emails and follow up are generally more believable.

Can you move your accounts? Smart bankers realize that it costs more than $15 to find a new client.

I've never been shortchanged at an ATM. But whenever I've deposited cash (rare), I hold up the money to the camera and count it out. (Not too obviously, though. Just allow the camera some view.) That way, if there's a dispute, I figure there's at least *some* chance it will be on video. It's not perfect, but it's a start. I guess perhaps someone could do the reverse when shortchanged by an ATM.
posted by acoutu at 3:18 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: Dave Faris: I am reasonably sure I wasn't being oversensitive. The employee kept repeating the same thing about how a mistake like this could never have happened. She said it 4 times during the phone call, and one last/fifth time she repeated it but added, "unless the federal reserve put the wrong money in the ATM, but that would never happen".
posted by smashingstars at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2007

Hopefully in the interest of good customer service your CU will do right by you. However, in the case that they don't try taking your story to
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:39 PM on January 29, 2007

The silly thing is if your credit union had been open at the time and you could have dealt with the situation immediately after it happened, there most likely wouldn't have been a problem. I suspect your credit union is recieving memos every morning stressing security and protecting against fraudulent activity but that's purely stupidty on your CU's behalf if they see your actions as suspect.

You are entitled to that $15. There should be no "panicking" and suspicion of "scam" on behalf of your credit union. What credit union is this anyway? A circumstance like this shouldn't even be on the radar of the manager let alone the president. Mistakes are common and usually rectified without much hastle. I am confused as to why your credit union has made such a fuss about this.

If I think back to my bank experience, although I do not recall a cuustomer specifically having the wrong denomination dispensed, I do recall money not being dispensed at all. We reimbursed the customer without much fuss. People who try to lamely scam ATM's usually do it on the flip side. They try to do so in their deposits. Many think they can get away with depositing a blank envelope and then withdrawing the funds or depositing less then they input into the machine. Someone double checks all of these transactions each morning and not many people get away with this sort of thing.

And to respond to contraption, I suppose someone pocketing the $20 and leaving the $5 is a possibility, however, I doubt that an employee would go through that much trouble to make $15. If you worked at a bank and wanted to steal money, it's easiest to do it in the balancing itself as it avoids exactly what is happening right now... follow-up. As far as cameras go, I filled my ATM in a "secret room" that's behind the machine itself. There are no cameras in there. Of course this could vary from institution to institution.

Banks/credit unions are notoriously terrible. After working at one I realized the level of incompetence that goes into these institutions safely maintaining one's money. Stay on top of your finances! One missed number from a low level teller can mean money leaving your account without you even knowing it.
posted by ageispolis at 3:49 PM on January 29, 2007

From what you're saying about how the teller reacted, it sounds almost like he/she could be the guilty party, and is trying to scare you into not pursuing it. The Federal Reserve? Filling ATMs? Something is amiss here, and you should definitely be talking to a higher-up.
posted by Malor at 4:11 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: It's a local, tiny credit union in Kansas, in a small town. This is a CU my husband and I have used for years, and I have a very unique last name; I was always sure to be recognized when I called or went into the building.

However, the last two times my husband and I dealt with people in the CU, we've been treated like strangers. Also, the ATM has been unreliable in the past, breaking down and/or running out of money. I'd love to go elsewhere but there are no other CUs in town, just banks, which are worse than this CU has been.
posted by smashingstars at 4:13 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: Okay, so the "federal reserve" thing was crazy, wasn't it? I came to MeFi to read old threads about ATMs specifically because of the "federal reserve" comment that lady made, wondering if she was right.

I hope this was just a case of a confused lady telling me all the wrong things. If she's so confused about who fills the ATM at her own CU, I wonder what else she was completely wrong about. I wish I still knew people who worked there, I could call them directly, but they all quit. (Maybe I should have been wondering why they all quit?)
posted by smashingstars at 4:22 PM on January 29, 2007

Explain what happened to the president. If you don't get your money back, get a new bank (assuming you have an option).

In the grand scheme of things this is a rounding error to them. So assuming this is the first time this has happened with you - if they can't even give you the benefit of the doubt on this, imagine what it would be like to try to resolve a REAL error with them.
posted by chundo at 4:25 PM on January 29, 2007

As far as cameras go, I filled my ATM in a "secret room" that's behind the machine itself. There are no cameras in there. Of course this could vary from institution to institution.

Also echoing the fact that atm rooms are not always filmed, as was the case with the very large and well-known institution I used to work for. I'm not at all sure if the atm loading procedures are the same, but the money used to fill atms there came in $20K bricks held by two straps and processed by the bank's internal cash vault. When it comes to smaller CUs, it still seems silly to think that they are literally counting out cash by hand to fill the atms, I would guess some form of prepackaged quantity.

In any case, the underlying fact here is for $15 any company should just suck it up and earn your business, they are being ridiculously foolish.
posted by Asherah at 4:38 PM on January 29, 2007

Document, document, document. Names of people spoken to, times, dates, what was said.

Don't be nervous talking to the bank president. State exactly what you told us -- there was a mistake at the ATM and you were shorted $15, that you'd like this money credited to your account. You're not asking for the money, you want it back. Be assertive, professional and confident, but not all up in his face confrontational. You can go on to let him know that both you and your husband are a bit peeved that your customer service email was distributed to the entire office before the bank even opened this morning and that the person you spoke to basically accused you of stealing a paltry $15.

I'm actually surprised they are being this pissy over $15, especially with someone who has been a member of the credit union, presumably in good standing, for years. Does your ATM card have a Mastercard/Visa logo on it? Do you know if you have any protection through that, by chance?

While waiting for him to call, check out the NCUA. If he gives you a difficult time, you can say you are going to pursue it through the NCUA and the CU board of directors (if applicable).
posted by jerseygirl at 5:03 PM on January 29, 2007

By the way, since people are mentioning cameras, it seems pertinent to mention a very important procedure a security guard who was a friend of mine once told me:

Whenever you're handling money in public and there's an error, whether it's company money or your money at the bank, or whenever you find a wallet in a public place, see if there's a desk and a security camera around, and count out the money slowly in full view of the camera. This can save loads and loads of trouble in the long run, as it's an immediate and reliable accounting of what's happened.

A lot of times, at the hotel I worked at with the security guard I mentioned, a wallet would be found, and we'd always count out the cash. Several times, people claimed that we'd stolen from their wallets; but, when told that the cash had been counted out in front of the camera, they invariably backed down.

The moral? Security cameras can be very useful. Take advantage of them.
posted by koeselitz at 5:10 PM on January 29, 2007

The Huntington ATM in the Kent Student Center when I was a freshman was notorious for giving out less money than it actually debited from your checking account. After numerous complaints the machine was serviced, but I never got my money back. I called over and over (the machine can serve $1-250 requests) and was told that it was my mistake, not the machine. Good luck and be persistant, maybe since it's a CU they'll be more inclined to keep your business.
posted by vkxmai at 5:43 PM on January 29, 2007

If you can't move all your accounts, just move a few. You could open an online savings account at ING, for example, and tell your CU that you're sending your money there. Tell them that you'll just keep the loss leader accounts.
posted by acoutu at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2007

I'm not at all sure if the atm loading procedures are the same, but the money used to fill atms there came in $20K bricks held by two straps and processed by the bank's internal cash vault. When it comes to smaller CUs, it still seems silly to think that they are literally counting out cash by hand to fill the atms, I would guess some form of prepackaged quantity.

This is quite likely true (though sometimes we used to augment ATM cash with drawer cash on busy weekends). At any rate, it is not your responsibility to help them find their error. Tell them that you would like them to return your $15 by the end of the week, or you will need to consider a different bank. FYI, the branch of the megabank I worked at would have given you your $15 in about 15 seconds, especially if you were a known customer.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:16 PM on January 29, 2007

Response by poster: jerseygirl, thanks for the tip about the NCUA. When I talk to whoever is on the other line on Wednesday I'm definitely going to bring up the email. If the president calls, I'll ask her why such a small issue got directed to her in the first place.

The ideas about the security cameras are good ones. I think I'll suggest they check the tapes, because my husband and I did check the bill in the light to make sure we weren't just seeing things. The camera could have picked that up, and if so, it would show we aren't making this up.
posted by smashingstars at 7:27 PM on January 29, 2007

Remember, too, that with a credit union, you're not just a customer, you're actually a part-owner. (OK, realistically, you're "just" a customer, but still...) Generally, especially at a small CU, the board of directors will probably be just regular people that could look into things if the president gives you the run-around. My dad's on the board of a medium-sized CU and I'm sure he and the other board members would be all over them to fix this. Hopefully, you'll have that recourse (if you have no luck from the prez but before you bring in NCUA).
posted by SuperNova at 9:22 PM on January 29, 2007

I'd like to rescind my "then move on" advice above; after thinking a bit, I realize I'd actually keep at it for a while. Pursue it as long as you feel it's worth pursuing.
posted by mediareport at 9:32 PM on January 29, 2007

I wonder about the financial health of this CU, and whether there may be other instances of mismanagement. A threat to complain to higher authorities may put fear in the belly of the president.

I have an account with an extremely small town CU, and the experience is totally friendly. I moved away 10 years ago, but I can just phone up and have them send a check off my account to anyone. It's that personal. Of course, they like having my money sitting there doing so little. This might change when those that know me there retire or move on. But if it's really small (my CU has no ATM), the president is usually also the manager, who works at any of the jobs that need doing.
posted by Goofyy at 10:59 PM on January 29, 2007

The employee kept repeating the same thing about how a mistake like this could never have happened. She said it 4 times during the phone call, and one last/fifth time she repeated it but added, "unless the federal reserve put the wrong money in the ATM, but that would never happen".

Yeah, she has no idea what she's talking about. The Fed doesn't fill ATMs.

Unfortunately, I've found that some of the employees at various financial instutions really aren't qualified for their jobs, so good luck.
posted by oaf at 11:37 PM on January 29, 2007

Your going to be speaking to the president on the phone? I personally, would prefer to speak to him/her in person. At the customer service job that I have, I think I give better service in-person. Plus, whenever I can, I prefer to do my business face to face.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:35 AM on January 30, 2007

If all else fails, send in the bailiffs for your $15.
posted by caddis at 11:17 AM on January 30, 2007

Any follow up?
posted by jerseygirl at 12:21 PM on February 2, 2007

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