Standing in front of an ATM that just ate your cash deposit without crediting your account or issuing a receipt can leave you feeling helpless, and even hopeless. Just ask Linda Murray Bullard, who recently found herself in that situation.
“A horrific experience!” says Murray Bullard, who owns a business consulting firm in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
How common her experience is isn’t clear. The ATM Industry Association doesn’t have data that would show the scope of this issue, according to Michael Lee, the group’s chief executive, who says he hasn’t “heard of a single reported case of this happening.” The American Bankers Association didn’t respond to requests for comment when asked about such incidents.
However, Murray Bullard certainly isn’t alone: Based on scores of online message board discussions on the topic, cash-hungry ATMs aren’t a completely unheard-of phenomenon. And considering that 68% of Americans use ATMs at least once a month, according to a 2014 Nielsen study, it’s worth knowing how to respond to this potentially frustrating situation.
Stand your ground and contact your bank
Although it may not come naturally to some people, the name of the game is keeping your cool. For Murray Bullard, that meant staying put and immediately reaching out to her bank.
“When it chewed up my money, I refused to move before I contacted the bank and spoke to a live person,” she says.
I refused to move before I contacted the bank and spoke to a live person.
“The lady assured me it would be corrected the next business day and someone would call me as soon as it was corrected. They did just what she said, and my deposit was credited.”
Confirm that your bank performs an investigation
Shane Allen, media relations director of Personal Trainer Food, a Fort Worth, Texas-based company that helps consumers create healthy meal plans, found himself in a similar predicament a few months ago when he tried to deposit $800 at a Capital One cash machine.
“The ATM took the cash and printed out a receipt saying there’d been an error, and that I should call a certain phone number,” Allen says.
His bank assured him that it would look into the situation when he called and credited his account for the time being.
“They warned me that they would investigate all the deposits that day and, if for some reason they determine the deposit was less, they’d take it out of my account,” Allen says.
A month later, Allen received a letter in the mail saying that the bank had completed its investigation and determined that he did, in fact, deposit $800.
“Overall, I think they handled it very well,” he says. Capital One didn’t immediately respond to a request for a comment.
All transactions are logged, and we utilize our logs to research these transactions. If a problem results in any account fees, we will credit their account for those fees.
If an ATM eats your deposit, you should contact your bank immediately, says Kristopher Dahl, a spokesman for Wells Fargo. That will spur an examination of the incident.
“I can’t share much information about the investigation process, but all transactions are logged, and we utilize our logs to research these transactions,” Dahl says, adding that those instances happen rarely. “If a problem with an ATM results in any account fees, we will also credit their account for those fees.”
Note the time of the transaction, gather evidence
As well as eating cash, ATMs also swallow checks on occasion, as Natalie Nicole Gilbert can attest to.
“If you must use an ATM and it goes awry, note the time of the failed deposit,” says Gilbert, a Los Angeles-based musician who recently tried depositing a check worth about $1,000.
Because she didn’t usually use that particular account to make deposits of that size, the transaction “tripped a security feature that suspected potential fraud,” Gilbert says. As a result, her financial institution froze her funds while trying to verify that the check was valid.
“It was particularly inconvenient, as I’d intended to pay my rent that month with that check, and the hold didn’t release for another week or more after my rent was due,” she says.
Gilbert recommends that customers take smartphone pictures of the error screen on the ATM if one comes up during a botched transaction. She adds that people may want to copy the serial numbers on bills before inserting currency into a machine. The more evidence you can gather, the better.
Responding quickly is crucial
Although faulty ATMs can make you feel extremely powerless, the ball is very much in your court to fix the situation. Your first move should be to alert your bank or credit union, which will investigate before crediting your account.
Update Nov. 21, 2017.