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You can take it to the bank, but... 

Every day, hundreds of thousands of checks are moved from bank branches to processing centers to Federal Reserve banks, or to airports where they are loaded onto planes and flown all over the world. So, would it really be that surprising that a check would get lost every now and then?

One banking official who spoke on condition of anonymity says customers' deposits are lost more frequently than most of us would like to think. He estimates that one large bank's total lost deposits add up to something close to $1 billion.

But Tim Carver, a manager of deposit processing for Wachovia in Winston Salem, N.C. laughs at the idea.

"The occurrence is very, very infrequent. It's so infrequent that no one really keeps track of how often it happens."

There's no way to know how much money is involved. Mary Moore, a spokeswoman with Bank of America, says, "We're not going to go too far into this issue, but basically, the customer should keep deposit slips and receipts."

Not even the Federal Deposit Insurance Company, a government agency responsible for inspecting banks and making sure the books balance and the deposit slips match up with deposits, keeps watch over lost deposits.

"The FDIC doesn't keep track," says David Barr, a spokesman for the FDIC in Washington, D.C. "I can't find anything that would indicate that kind of statistic is something we would keep track of. It's ultimately up to the consumer."

Wachovia, according to Carver, uses an "image" system that requires bank employees to make copies of checks deposited so that even if the actual check goes missing -- which could happen -- there's still a copy of it. How checks disappear is a matter of chance.

A check might, for example, get caught in the banking machinery: This is a literal, not figurative, occurrence. The machines that process paper at banks have been known to chew up a check now and then. Sometimes, a bank courier's vehicle gets in an accident, scattering checks all over the highway. Sometimes, a plane crash leaves deposits strewn across the wilderness. Anything could happen, though it usually doesn't.

So, what happens if a customer deposits a check and the check is lost? The bank will typically credit the customer's account with the amount of money deposited and the bank will investigate what happened to the check, says Carver.

Ed Mierzwinski, a spokesman for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, says his office regularly gets calls and complaints about bank deposits and disputed balances. He blames the increase in electronic banking services, as well as, interestingly enough, the public's trust in banks. People are less likely to hang onto deposit slips and receipts in an electronic environment, making it difficult to argue with a bank that has all the documents.

"If the consumer has the receipt and the consumer is kind enough to contact the company that issued the check and ask for a copy, then the consumer should be held blameless," he says. "The consumer made the deposit in good faith."

But imaging, the system used by Wachovia, has contributed to a higher level of customer dissatisfaction as well. Many banks now use imaging rather than returning actual cancelled checks to customers, which used to make it easier for consumers to keep track of their drafts and deposits. Only two states require banks to returned canceled checks to customers, and Georgia isn't one of them.

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