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Are Your Bank's Safe Deposit Boxes Safe?

It seems as though even safe deposit boxes can't guarantee what their name promises. Are safe deposit boxes safe? It turns out not as much as you'd expect.

What is the safest place to store money? It seems like there is no safe place to store your money nowadays. If you're hiding money under your mattress, don't forget that a natural disaster could wipe out your whole house. In a bank account? Considering the new fees and bank failures popping up left and right, it's a precarious environment.  Many people end up with the idea of putting their prized possessions in a safe deposit box, but the question remains -- are bank's safe deposit boxes safe?

More people are choosing to store their valuables in banks' safe deposit boxes, which are basically lockers that allow you to take advantage of the presumed security of the bank building for a fee.

However, just this past week, a woman in California discovered that her Wells Fargo safe deposit box had been rented out to another customer, resulting in the disappearance of important family treasures. Though tragic, mix-ups do happen. But some losses are more deliberate -- lest you think that bank robbery seems like a negligible worry best left to inventive movie plots.

When in doubt lock it up

General consensus states that bank safe deposit boxes should be kept in the bank vault, though not all banks necessarily adhere to this. A friend of mine who worked at a small California bank two years ago told me about a robbery involving her bank's safe deposit boxes, a burglary made easier by the fact that the safe deposit box room was not actually in the vault; it was just a separate room within the bank that the robber(s) accessed via the roof.

A similar instance occurred in New York when a robber raided a TD Bank branch's safe deposit boxes through the roof, something that shouldn't be possible if the deposit boxes are stored in a secure vault. It's a huge oversight, as well as a reminder that before you get a safe deposit box, you should always ascertain that they are located in the most secure area of the bank.

Unfortunately, even a bank vault isn't guaranteed to be impenetrable.

Tips when opening a safe deposit box

Before you decide to open a safe deposit box, remember that there are a couple of things to consider.

1. Grant limited access when it comes to who can access the safety deposit box

You may want to limit it to a spouse, parent, or child. The bank keeps records of who accesses the box. So if something goes missing you can narrow down the blame to either the bank or someone that has access. If recent logs show no one has accessed the account, then it is a safe bet that the bank is at fault.

2. Check your state's laws

On the rare occasion that you find something inside of your safe deposit box, make sure you know your state's laws. States such as New York have a "Finders Keepers Law" that allows you to keep property turned in after one year if no one claims it. Do not wind up like the woman that found an extra $100,000 in safety deposit box, but had the money seized by the bank with no explanation.

3. Keep a back-up option

The secretive nature of keeping a safe deposit box generally works against the customer if the box gets lost, stolen or destroyed, as it is difficult to prove what was contained inside. One way to protect your belongings is to copy, scan documents or take photos of belongings before placing them in a waterproof bag inside the deposit box.

As safe deposit boxes are not insured by the FDIC, you might look into buying fire or theft insurance for those items. You can also purchase jewelry insurance for your shiny valuables and heirlooms. When you shop around for a safe deposit box, ask questions about how secure the boxes are against theft, fire or other damages. Take a tour of the place if you can to get a feel for how safe or private the vault is.

In general, the majority of safe deposit box customers don't encounter problems, as it is the bank's priority to keep the vault safe. High-stakes bank robberies are relatively rare, but they demonstrate that no location is completely secure. Perhaps we should learn not to form too strong an attachment to our earthly possessions?

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Ask a Question

maryderovanesian
Saturday, 27 Mar 2021 7:15 AM
<p>i had my box drilled by fraud. i had autopay. the bank wells fargo 1.5 years has not given me my video taped gold back. it was stolen by the workers. they knew i was a jewler. tthey are refusing to do anything. i just reported to state and federal goverment. any suestions? they distroyed the invenrorty showing comtents and nook pictures that i got by accdient. over 500k stolen. all my family heirlooms</p>
Sunday, 10 Feb 2019 12:12 PM
<p>Will the bank notify you in writing if your safe deposit box is frozen.</p>
scottlynn2
Friday, 26 May 2017 3:40 PM
<p>Safe has additional 1 hour fire and water resistant boxes inside the safe. Safe is secured internally by 2" by 10" steel bolts in cement floor. We have photos of everything and stored in cloud account. Also we keep up to date hard drive copy in safe too. Many, many people have secure home vaults.</p>
scottlynn2
Friday, 26 May 2017 3:30 PM
<p>We took our "stuff" with us when we moved to Florida and bought a 2 hour fire resistant safe that weighs about 800 lbs and is bolted, internally, on all four corners into the cement floor. It was about $1200 and its better than keeping everything valuable at the bank. Much more convenient.</p>
SimonMBT
Sunday, 18 Sep 2016 6:39 AM
<p>Liz, you can try filing a complaint with the CFPB: <a href="http://disq.us/url?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.consumerfinance.gov%2Fcomplaint%2F%3AaQ5iYiJwVoKNx0hBvq7toqu2Bzw&amp;cuid=15643" rel="nofollow noopener" title="http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/">http://www.consumerfinance....</a></p>
disqus_JTVWjvxDza
Monday, 22 Aug 2016 8:20 PM
<p>what will that do?</p>
Friday, 19 Aug 2016 7:08 PM
<p>Get a lawyer.</p>
disqus_JTVWjvxDza
Thursday, 28 Jul 2016 12:38 AM
<p>My friend had a problem with his bank and stopped going there.<br>They closed his account and drilled his safe deposit box without any notification and sent the documents to the state. Its my understanding that they are supposed to keep the items for a period of 5 years before sending to the state. Who can I complain to? I'm in the middle of trying to locate the documents with Unclaimed property . Its a nightmare.</p>
Thursday, 30 Jun 2016 4:13 PM
<p>Hoe much does it cost to transfer safe boxes to Florida </p>
stditw11
Monday, 10 Mar 2014 7:40 PM
<p>Your house is far more likely to be caught on fire than a bank. Also, firefighter may not be able to extinguish the fire before the is destoryed.</p>
stditw11
Monday, 10 Mar 2014 7:34 PM
<p>The cases you listed are extremely rare exceptions. Generally, safe deposited box is far more secured than the safe in your house due to construction, biometric ID, monitored alarm system, and strict controlled access. You also don't have to worry about someone in your family steal your access code form the safe you hided in your bedroom.</p><p>Just ensure your stuff in the box are listed on your will.</p>
Wednesday, 02 Oct 2013 4:29 AM
<p>never trust ANY banks.</p>
Friday, 30 Aug 2013 8:10 AM
<p>Get Them Out Now!<br>They Are Not Safe!<br>Especially If In Wells Fargo Safe Deposit Box!<br>Our box there ROBBED!!!!!!!!!!</p><p>Better to have insured with photos and appraisals and put in fire proof safe professionally installed and hidden in house!!!!!!!!</p>
Friday, 30 Aug 2013 8:06 AM
<p>Wish Wells Fargo offered this our box there was robbed of important documents and expensive jewelry and ten grand in cash.</p>
Friday, 30 Aug 2013 8:03 AM
<p>Safe deposit box moved by Wells Fargo Bank Was Robbed!!!!!!!<br>We were told after box moved this time, not normal always told before box moved not after.<br>Went to bank to get something out of box.</p><p>Instead found keys opened box with wrong number and box robbed!!!!!</p>
Monday, 04 Mar 2013 3:54 PM
<p>I wonder if that policy would cover cash if my bank does not allow me to place cash currency in my box?</p>
Tuesday, 26 Feb 2013 3:40 PM
<p>I feel so relieved to know that my valuables are 100% safe. I had some items from my great-grandmothers estate, and had no idea what to do with them or where to store them. I decided on a safe deposit box at my local bank. Upon signing me up my banker gave me a brochure for SDBIC. I bought a policy that costs less than a full tank of gas, and now I have piece of mind. I feel that the policy and the security of safe deposit box is the safest way to store these antique heirlooms. I cant believe how easy it was to get coverage, took five minutes.</p>
disqus_dd8hTRKNwS
Tuesday, 26 Feb 2013 12:54 AM
<p>My bank in the suburbs of Chicago sent me info this year about a product they were offering through an insurance company that insured everything in my box without having to disclose the contents. I selected the amount ($10K) and gave the company 2 digits of the box . It cost $50. I took some jewelry my wife is saving for our daughters and put it in the box -took it off the homeowners policy-saves almost $70 a year. The policy also pays me $3k to replace my will and car titles and house deed if they are taken or damaged which is nice. One of the better things the bank has done for me lately.</p>
lauraliMBT
Friday, 08 Feb 2013 4:38 PM
<p>Thanks for the tip, Alan! I'll definitely look into it.</p>
disqus_jPrtcOz0ys
Friday, 08 Feb 2013 12:46 AM
<p>I wish that you had made mention of upon the death of the box holder, the box is sealed. If the proper documents aren't filed (such as a will, trust...whatever) or the name of next of kin is not put on the "permission card" (perhaps the I'll get to that later" syndrome), gaining access to the family box can be a legal nightmare. Perhaps you might update your excellent article with these few caveats? Thanks. Alan in Massachusetts</p>

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