Tuesday, December 16, 2008

How to Save Your Safe Deposit Box From All the People Trying to Steal It

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , ,

comic 68 - safe deposit box

I don’t want to alarm anybody, but at this very moment, someone is trying to steal your money.

Let that statement soak in for a minute. Are you alarmed? You should be, even though I told you not to be. Now I bet you’re wondering what has transpired to cause me to issue such an alarming statement. Well, for starters, I had to write about something, and publishing alarming statements is a great way to get people’s attention. For instance: squirrels cause cancer if they get within 100 feet of you. See what I mean? I bet you’re checking the latest rodentia medical journals right now to verify my claim. Well, I’ll save you the trouble—squirrels do not cause cancer. At least I don’t think they do. Just to be safe, you should probably carry a gun with you all the time and shoot all the squirrels you see.

What was I talking about? Oh yes, everyone is trying to steal your money. And by everyone, I mean the following:

  • The Federal government
  • Your state and local governments
  • Your school or alma mater’s student government
  • Auto manufacturers
  • The banking industry
  • OPEC
  • The United Nations
  • The Washington Nationals
  • The International House of Pancakes

Okay, so I may have embellished that list a little bit. But since I won’t tell you how I embellished it, you’re just going to have to believe me out of fear for now.

One notable entity on that list of groups stealing your money is the banking industry. You might be thinking, “Why would the banks try to steal my money when I’m just as happy to give it to them?” And if you’re not thinking that, then consider all the different ways you give money to the bank during your lifetime:

  • Savings accounts and CDs
  • Checking accounts
  • Mortgage payments
  • Credit card payments
  • School loan payments
  • ATM fees
  • Safety deposit boxes

Of course, for most of those times you give your money to the bank, you expect to get something in return—possibly interest payments to you for your savings, or the right to continue living in your house for your mortgage payment. At the very least, you don’t expect a bank will just up and walk away with your hard-earned money. Even if you just stash tens of thousands of dollars into a safety deposit box, that money should still be there years down the road.

Unfortunately that’s not always how it works, as this story of auctioned-off safety deposit boxes reveals. Apparently these boxes aren’t always as “safe” as their name implies. The article describes how banks, believing some safety deposit boxes to be abandoned, turned over the contents to the state government which promptly proceeds to auction off the contents. In some cases, priceless family heirlooms have been sold at auction without the knowledge of the original owner.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the deposit boxes were genuinely abandoned, i.e. the owners had moved away without providing a new address. But in some instances, “abandoned” has simply meant that the owners of the boxes hadn’t visited the box in a few years. Sometimes the owners of the boxes still had active savings or checking accounts at the same bank! According to the article, while states require that banks attempt to contact the owners before drilling the box contents open for sale at auction, there is no law regulating how hard banks must try to contact the owners of “abandoned” safety deposit boxes, nor is there any punishment for not trying.

Now the article goes on to describe a few common sense ways to protect your safety deposit box such as ensuring your contact information is up to date and visiting the box once a year to check the contents. But that’s not going to do anything to stop banks from getting bored one day and deciding to auction off all the safety deposit boxes that are prime numbers. To do that, you’ll need to take serious preventative measures to protect your safety deposit box.

No, this doesn’t mean to set an explosive trap in your box that goes off when it’s opened. After all, how would you get into the box yourself? That, and we’re trying not to kill anyone here. Fortunately the geniuses over at the FatWallet forums have devised the perfect plan to protect your precious possessions from pesky pilferers—simply add a bag of cocaine to your safety deposit box.

You’re probably wondering how this works to stop your safety deposit box from being auctioned away. Well, it’s quite simple:

  1. Bank drills open “abandoned” safety deposit box.
  2. Bank finds cocaine.
  3. Bank calls police.
  4. Police find you in about 30 seconds, because they actually try.
  5. You, the true owner of the safety deposit box, are successfully located.

Of course, step six of that sequence would be “you go to jail for possession of an illegal substance,” so one way around that would be to substitute a bag of baking powder or sugar labeled as your favorite powdery white narcotic. That said, some places will throw you in jail anyway for wasting their time, but at least your collection of ceramic roosters won’t be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Your best bet, then, might be to label that fake bag of drugs as “definitely not drugs.” This way, the police will get called in anyway, but you can simply tell them later “the bag said it wasn’t drugs!” You still may go to jail, but it would be under the dumbest charge ever—something like “possession of a not illegal substance.”

Hmm… I suppose this whole idea goes out the window if the bank personnel drilling your safety deposit box open decide to steal your drugs. But imagine the look on their faces when they try to use the stuff only to find out it’s cooking flour! That’ll teach ‘em to steal from you.

So in summary, drugs are bad, and stealing is bad, but one bad thing can be used to stop another bad thing from happening, and it might be okay.

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