Because his bank wouldn’t grant him access to his own safe deposit box, a New Jersey man alleges he was unable to see his dying mother for a last time before she passed away.
When Syed Ali found out his dying mother in India didn’t have much time left to live, he decided to fly home. So he went to collect his passport from his safe deposit box at a local Wells Fargo, only to discover he wouldn't be granted access to the box since his passport, the only photo ID he owned, was already inside the safe, The Star-Ledger reports (h/t The Consumerist).
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation recommends customers don't place passports in their safe deposit boxes, nor anything that may be useful in case of an emergency. Here's the FDIC on what shouldn't go in the box:
Anything you might need in an emergency, in case your bank is closed for the night, the weekend or a holiday. Possible examples: originals of a "power of attorney" (your written authorization for another person to transact business on your behalf), passports (in case of an emergency trip), medical-care directives if you become ill and incapacitated, and funeral or burial instructions you make. Consider giving the originals to your attorney, and making copies to go in your safe deposit box or to give a close friend or relative.
After the Star-Ledger contacted the bank, Ali was ultimately allowed access to the box. Unfortunately, by then it was too late: He had even missed most of the funeral proceedings. Ali isn't the only one to win a battle with his bank thanks to media intervention. Robert Whitten, a man who was told by Bank of America that he was no longer entitled to a free lifetime checking account he’d won years earlier, got out of being charged account fees when he contacted ABC News with the story.
Likewise, national media attention helped veteran John McDevitt win a battle with Bank of America after the bank had previously refused to reimburse him when he was fraudulently charged more than $25,000 during a trip in Greece.
Despite the tragic circumstances of Ali’s episode, recent headlines may provide some justification to the bank's point. Earlier this month three masked men robbed a safe deposit box facility in Las Vegas, FOX5 Vegas reports. More recently a man in Minneapolis was arrested after telling a bank employee he’d planted a bomb in his safe deposit box, Patch reports. Turns out the box contained little more than some personal documents and a few packets of artificial sweetener. The man now faces a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $3,000 fine for making terroristic threats.
Other times it's more a simple case of a safe deposit box being drilled into and wiped clean, as happened to a couple just this month, according to CBS San Francisco.
It's important to note that, unlike bank deposits, safe deposit boxes are not insured by the FDIC, as U.S. News points out.