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Safe Deposit Boxes - not so safe?
Old 04-16-2015, 10:02 AM   #1
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Safe Deposit Boxes - not so safe?

Here's a problem that should be relevant to many here.

About 4 years ago my bank (a major national bank, which I also use for checking) was remodeling their safe room in my local branch office. They sent me a letter asking to 'move' my box to a new location in the safe room. No problem for me, really, even though I've had the box and number for almost 30 years. So, I went to the branch, opened and took the contents out of the old box, signed a new signature card to a new box, turned in the keys to the old box, opened and put a few of the contents into the new box using new keys to the new box (with a new box number), and locked the new box in the safe room.

Recently, I decided to close this new box (motivated by a 'no-fee' box being offered by another national bank near me). So, I went to bank No. 1, and asked to close the new box.

Long story, short: Bank No. 1 can't find my new box. They also can't find my new signature card. My keys don't open anything in the safe room--although I haven't yet asked them to try every box (among the hundreds of boxes). Fortunately, I'm pretty sure not much of economic value is in that apparently 'lost' box.

Bank No. 1 is still looking for my box after four weeks--and is apologetic (they should be!). I should mention that the bank's own billing records document the old & new box I have had for decades.

Here are some things I have learned:
1. Your safe deposit box is not nearly as 'safe' as you might think.

2. You should keep a written inventory of what's in your box, in case you need to replicate a document, or to prove a loss (or, your heirs need to do that). You should consider keeping photocopies of documents outside the box (or on a flash drive, etc.).

3. I've also since read that you should keep paper documents in zip-lock bags in case of fire/water sprinkler activation in the safe room.

4. The 'agreement' you sign when you take a box doesn't offer much protection--the banks assume virtually no liability for a loss (although my situation is somewhat different because of their negligence). Banks advise you should have homeowner's insurance coverage for safe deposit held items.
Anyone have similar stories?

PS. By the way, there is no question about my 'memory.' That might be the first thing that occurs to you reading this post--but it doesn't apply here.
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Old 04-16-2015, 10:15 AM   #2
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Doesn't your key have a number on it? Mine says "285" on it. That would help the bank, right?

DH (who hates financial matters) has always kept an up-to-date list of what we keep at the bank. Yay!
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Old 04-16-2015, 10:23 AM   #3
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Doesn't your key have a number on it? Mine says "285" on it. That would help the bank, right?

DH (who hates financial matters) has always kept an up-to-date list of what we keep at the bank. Yay!
Yes, indeed it does. The key doesn't open the box with the number on the key!
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Old 04-16-2015, 10:35 AM   #4
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I have never been willing to trust a bank with a safe deposit box. If I want something safe it will be in my own safe or hidden.
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Old 04-16-2015, 10:35 AM   #5
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Wow. I hope you get it sorted out.


We have a safe in the house, bolted to a shelf in a closet with special bolts that cannot be easily detached. I also stuck an address label on it since we're in Tornado Alley, and it's fireproof. That's where we keep my jewelry (I keep a few pieces out to wear them and rotate them frequently) and important papers.


Years ago I read about burglary of a self-storage unit system in NJ- it must have been one that didn't have attendants 24/7. There were all kinds of sad stories about what was lost and, as you said, the insurance doesn't cover much unless you have a very specific policy for items such as jewelry.
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Old 04-16-2015, 11:29 AM   #6
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Wow. I hope you get it sorted out.

Years ago I read about burglary of a self-storage unit system in NJ- it must have been one that didn't have attendants 24/7. There were all kinds of sad stories about what was lost and, as you said, the insurance doesn't cover much unless you have a very specific policy for items such as jewelry.
There is certainly NO guarantees with a storage locker. They burn, flood, get broken into, and well it costs too much money to store crap most people will never use anyway.

The lesson I take from the OP is if/when you get a box, it might be a REALLY good practice to check that the key'locking mechanism works *before* you put your stuff in it. I am sorry to hear that happened, but I can't imagine that this happens often AT ALL.

I do have a box (included at no additional charge) at my local bank. I have some documents, old pictures, and a hard drive but most of the stuff I have in it (including digital scans of the old pictures) is replicated several times over in different places. It's a redundancy thing, I guess.


One thing about safes/fire boxes at the consumer level is the fire protection level. It will withstand fire TO A POINT, and then the contents can still be damaged. Perhaps not physically burned, but sensitive documents, pictures, hard drives, etc. CAN be damaged if the fire burns long enough and hot enough. This is what I *do* like about the safe deposit box in the bank..once the vault is locked up, there is little that will damage the contents.
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Old 04-16-2015, 11:35 AM   #7
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Yes, indeed it does. The key doesn't open the box with the number on the key!
To me the next step would be to have the bank see if they have a record of someone else owning the box your key number matches. If they don't, I would assume that it's your box and the key just doesn't work. They should then be responsible for opening the box, whether they can do it with a key or a drill, so you can see if it's your stuff. I wouldn't cut them any slack on this, it's their screw up.
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Old 04-16-2015, 11:40 AM   #8
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To me the next step would be to have the bank see if they have a record of someone else owning the box your key number matches. If they don't, I would assume that it's your box and the key just doesn't work. They should then be responsible for opening the box, whether they can do it with a key or a drill, so you can see if it's your stuff. I wouldn't cut them any slack on this, it's their screw up.
+1. Do you *know* for sure this is the box that your stuff was in? I assume you had to lock it at the same time the attendant locked it, so if this is the case, I would simply DEMAND that they open the box. It can be done, it's done all the time. Sure, they probably don't want to pay the locksmith but too freakin' bad!
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Old 04-16-2015, 11:41 AM   #9
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a picture is worth a 1000 words

reasonably secure, fire resistant, convenient, heavy as hell and can be bolted into the concrete
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Old 04-16-2015, 11:46 AM   #10
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I would say first off that the bank is not responsible for what you put in a box.... heck, they are not supposed to even know what you have in there... so how can they be responsible

What they should do is protect from theft... or at least slow it down... I saw on the news that some boxes were robbed in London recently and they were inside over the weekend opening boxes... I think they might have some liability...

No box is safe from everything.... some people thought they had very safe boxes in the basement of the World Trade Center.... we all know what happened to them....

Lastly, banks move locations... this happened to my mom.... they closed one location and moved all the boxes to their new branch.... they were notified etc etc. in case they wanted to take stuff out...



I would bet that the box with your number is your box... just that the key does not work as someone else mentioned...
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Old 04-16-2015, 11:51 AM   #11
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+1. Do you *know* for sure this is the box that your stuff was in? I assume you had to lock it at the same time the attendant locked it, so if this is the case, I would simply DEMAND that they open the box. It can be done, it's done all the time. Sure, they probably don't want to pay the locksmith but too freakin' bad!
Thanks for these replies. I need to add that the box having my number is a much larger box, and not at all the very small box that I have and am (was) paying for. I may demand that they open the box with my number, but one complexity is that they also can't find my signature card for that number. The bank is (allegedly) putting a 'trace' on the paper records having to do with the safe room remodel. My guess is that "my box" got transferred to another branch.

I've also thought about filing a police report to document the apparent theft.

This has been mostly a learning experience for me. I plan to have some 'fun' with the bank's management. I'm thinking about asking for a refund for the box fees for the several years since the remodel...
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Old 04-16-2015, 12:24 PM   #12
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Last time I was accessing my safe deposit box, the clerk almost gave up trying to unlock it. Finally she twisted and torqued the 2 keys the right way and it opened. The previous time I was there it was hard to open, also.
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Old 04-16-2015, 01:21 PM   #13
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I've also thought about filing a police report to document the apparent theft.

This has been mostly a learning experience for me. I plan to have some 'fun' with the bank's management. I'm thinking about asking for a refund for the box fees for the several years since the remodel...
I'm thinking reporting a theft that occurred under the watchful eyes of the banks management is about as fun as it can get.

Throw in some social media and a local news broadcast. Sounds like time to watch them sweat.



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Old 04-16-2015, 04:11 PM   #14
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When my wife's mother asked her to take over her financial affairs, my Mother-in-Law said she had a safe deposit box at a local bank but she had lost the key. She said she had some important financial papers in the SD box. She had a receipt for the annual fee and the box number.

My wife went to the local bank and asked for the SD box to be opened. They said it would cost $50 to drill it out. My wife OK and the locksmith came and drilled the box open. It was empty! My wife asked them to double-check box number on the annual fee receipt, and the bank realized the box was at another branch. She then went with the locksmith to the right branch, drilled the lock on that SD box, and found all the papers.

If that first SD box had stuff in it, my wife would probably have walked off with it not knowing any better. Mistakes happen.
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Old 04-16-2015, 04:24 PM   #15
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Very interesting stories here. Fortunately, since DH rotates backup hard drives monthly, we check on our box frequently. Good to know to be cautious when things are changed up. Keep us posted, plsprius - it will be interesting and instructive to see how this all turns out. Let's hope for the best.
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Old 04-16-2015, 08:17 PM   #16
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All of this makes me a lot happier with the proverbial coffee can buried in the backyard.
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Old 04-17-2015, 12:50 PM   #17
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All of this makes me a lot happier with the proverbial coffee can buried in the backyard.
When I told my dad that I had poured the slab for my basement, the first thing he said was "Why didn't you put-in a floor safe?" Well, because I didn't think of that. Would have been a good idea, though.
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Box found!
Old 06-06-2015, 01:14 PM   #18
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Box found!

Here's the update and conclusion to this saga.

A few weeks ago I went back to the bank for the third or fourth time. I was visiting about every two weeks to get an update on their progress "finding" my box. On this last visit, the bank employee said, "let's check one more time," even though we had searched for the box at least twice before in the safe room, including one time by the assistant manager himself.

Believe it or not, there were three boxes with my number. This was the result of the bank consolidations over the past decade. And, my key opened the third box! Why we didn't find that third box before is something I can't explain. And, the bank didn't have clear records about what numbers were in their safe room...the box numbers were not sequential.

I decided to be charitable and walked away, smiling, with my property. And, yes, I closed that Safe Deposit Box. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

I did learn one interesting new thing: of the items in my box, none of them where what I had expected to find. This emphasizes the importance of my recommendation #2, below. So, here again are my recommendations if you have a bank Safe Deposit Box:
1. Your safe deposit box is not nearly as 'safe' as you might think.

2. You should keep a written inventory of what's in your box, in case you need to replicate a document, or to prove a loss (or, your heirs need to do that). You should consider keeping photocopies of documents outside the box (or on a flash drive, etc.).

3. I've also since read that you should keep paper documents in zip-lock bags in case of fire/water sprinkler activation in the safe room.

4. The 'agreement' you sign when you take a box doesn't offer much protection--the banks assume virtually no liability for a loss (although my situation is somewhat different because of their negligence). Banks advise you should have homeowner's insurance coverage for safe deposit held items.
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Old 06-06-2015, 02:27 PM   #19
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plsprius, glad you got it sorted out.

Interesting story - was visiting the local credit union and noticed the safe was open and the safe deposit boxes were open and the room was in disarray. I questioned the teller and she said the credit union got rid of their safe deposit boxes years ago and that was now a storage room. I was a little surprised - this building was only built 10 years ago.

I think plsprius's advice is good and I'll add it's probably would be a wise idea to keep a copy of important documents with a family member that has a safe.
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Old 06-06-2015, 08:08 PM   #20
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We use the safe deposit box as just a remote location with a copy of important records. Don't think we have any valuables in there. Don't see much reason to own something you have to go visit the bank just to look at!
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