Monday, June 26, 2006

Bonfire of the ATMs

I experienced my first major Bank ATM failure last Saturday. I was preparing to leave on vacation and drove through a branch office near my house. Flicked my card in and requested $300 out of a savings account.

The ATM started counting money -- I could hear it -- and then froze. The screen instructed me to remove the money. One problem: the black metal door that controlled access to the funds had never opened. And the ATM user interface itself was completely frozen. I sat there, stunned, for a minute or so.

I pressed "Cancel" and every other button on the screen. Nothing. I even tried some creative [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Del] key combinations in the hope of striking a magic reset sequence. Nada. The screen sat there mocking me, telling me to remove the bills from the machine. Real amusing.

I got out the trusty BlackBerry 8700G and Googled the bank's customer support number. While sitting at the ATM, I called customer service on my cell phone. After navigating the ever-irritating IVR system, I got a live person on a line. The rep went to investigate and put me on hold while she called ATM support.

The timer on the BlackBerry indicated I was on hold nearly ten minutes. Coincidentally, about the time she returned to the line, the ATM coughed up my card along with the inscrutable message, "Transaction timed out." No money, no receipt, just the card.

The rep was back on the phone. She indicated that the $300 had been withdrawn from the account - in other words, I'd been docked the money but received absolutely nothing in return. Not a good thing. She asked whether I wanted to contest the withdrawal. Uhm, that would be "Yes!". She indicated that a "provisional credit"would be provided to the account, pending some sort of adjudication process.

Apparently, a secret ATM panel regularly meets to discuss and review disputed ATM transactions every so often. She felt confident that, by Tuesday, some sort of provisional credit would be issued.

On Thursday, from the beach, I checked online. Of course, no credit of any kind had been issued. Just two withdrawals of $300 (I'd driven to another bank branch and withdrawn the money I'd needed). So I was still out the first $300 withdrawal with nothing to show for it.

Online, I wrote an email to customer service... once again explaining the situation. The following email arrived in response:

Thank you for the opportunity to be of service through [Bank name]'s online service.

Upon review of your account, I show that a dispute was filed on 6/17/06 to research the $300.00 withdrawal at the [Branch Office location] ATM.

Per Federal guidelines, the bank does have 45 calendar days to fully resolve the claim.

However, if we have not completed it in 10 business days, you will receive a provisional
credit from the bank. You will receive written notification of the results of the investigation.

Please complete any paperwork you receive from us and return promptly as instructed so we can complete the investigation for you. If we do not receive the paperwork back from you, the investigation will be closed and the provisional credit will be removed from your account.

I apologize for any confusion or inconvenience this may have caused you.

Thank you for choosing [Bank name] and we look forward to assisting you with your banking needs.


[Name removed]

Well, since I'm on vacation, receiving and filling out paperwork will be a problem.

Furthermore, I find it difficult to believe that an ATM audit trail doesn't exist. Such an audit trail would track any of the following: (a) a sensor that notes whether the currency door actually opened or not; (b) a picture from the ATM's camera showing the cash getting dispensed or not; (c) an extra $300 showing up in the cash wipe drawer inside the ATM.

This isn't exactly rocket science. You, my dear and valued reader, will be the first to know whether the the bank does the right thing here.

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