“Safe as a Bank Vault:” But How Safe Is That, Really?Submitted by Bernhardt Wealth Management on August 19th, 2019
Many of us place our most treasured or valuable items in a safe deposit box. After all, what more secure location could there be for our treasures than inside a locked box, stored inside the vault of a bank?
Well, it turns out that in some cases, safe deposit boxes might be less safe than we hoped. In 2016, daring thieves broke through the roof of a bank in New York, entering the safe deposit box storage vault. They broke into several boxes, scooping the contents and leaving the ruined containers scattered about on the roof. In that same year, a more cunning criminal, after gaining access to the safe deposit box vault, picked the locks on a number of boxes and absconded with the contents, leaving behind no visible trace of the burglary until the dismayed owners opened their now-empty boxes. In fact, according to the FBI, 15 to 18 robberies involving bank vaults occur each year.
But robberies aren’t the only problem, unfortunately. Last month, the New York Times reported on a bank customer who used his safe deposit box to store his collection of rare watches. As is often the case nowadays, the bank where he rented the box changed hands a number of times after he originally signed the lease for the box in the 1980s. In April 2014, he came to the bank and opened his box—to find it empty. Ultimately, he learned that his box had been emptied because of an error in recordkeeping by the bank; another customer with a nearby box had failed to pay the required lease, but the bank mistakenly associated the non-payment with the box containing the watch collection. The bank was able to retrieve most of the collection from the storage facility where it was being held, but several items were never recovered.
Sadly, such occurrences are not isolated instances, and in many cases, customers learn to their dismay that the lease documents largely absolve the banks from any responsibility for such mishaps. There are a few things you can do, though, to reduce the odds of having similar problems with your safe deposit box.
- Keep in touch with your bank. If possible, get to know the branch manager, and make it a point to open and inspect your box somewhat frequently. If someone at the bank associates you with the box, the bank is less likely to take any action on your box without contacting you.
- Consider alternate forms of storage. For example, if you are primarily using your box to store papers, consider scanning them and placing digital copies in a secure online vault such as Concord, Legal Files, or ContractSafe. Such online repositories have high security features and often can be accessed from anywhere in the world, with an internet connection.
- If you change banks or relocate, close your safe deposit box account and take all the contents with you. In this mobile day and age, many safe deposit boxes are simply declared abandoned when the owners stop paying rent and attempts to contact them are unsuccessful.
Safe deposit boxes are still a very secure place to store your most valuable items. But, as with almost everything else, it’s important to maintain oversight and to stay in contact with your provider.