Can ATM glitches affect you?
You can breathe a sigh of relief to know that the chance of something going wrong when you use an automatic teller machine is very small. But even though ATM glitches rarely happen, when they do occur they can be significant. In fact, some recent ATM issues might leave you shaking your head, and might leave bank managers trembling in fear.
Types of Outrageous ATM Glitches
When banks adopt new technologies, ATM problems sometimes result. For instance:
- June 19, 2012, a computer glitch caused by a change in company software prevented the Royal Bank of Scotland from making any payments to its customers, including payments through ATM’s. Even though the offending glitch was fixed almost right away, it spurred a chain reaction of events that led to inoperable ATM’s, among many other banking issues. These problems lasted for days and affected millions of people.
- Bank of America, which operates the U.S.’s largest network of automatic teller machines, also had a recent brush with ATM glitches caused by new technology. In the mid-2000’s, Bank of America began introducing ATM’s with scanning systems; these machines scan checks and deposit them into accounts. However, a number of these new devices refused to recognize certain checks, or did not follow through with the process of actually depositing the value of a check into a customer’s account. In a few isolated incidents, the machines completely shredded customers’ debit cards. No long-term damage was done, however; Bank of America took care of everyone who registered a complaint about these machines. And the vast majority of Bank of America’s new ATM’s worked without a hitch. Still, these incidents serve as reminders that bank customers always need to examine their bank statements to make sure they have the correct amount of money in their various accounts.
Natural disasters and mass panic can also bring about ATM glitches. In the aftermath of the terrible Japanese tsunami of 2011, thousands of ATM’s were out of order for hours. For at least one bank, Mizuho, the malfunctioning ATM’s were caused by an enormous uptick of customers trying to withdraw money from these machines.
On the other hand, sometimes ATM’s please customers too much. In 2009, Ronald Page, a retired autoworker in Detroit, found that a broken ATM in his home city was allowing him to take out all the money he wanted. So he took out $1.5 million, and he brought that cash to several casinos. He lost the entire amount. Later, prosecutors charged him with theft, and sought to have him jailed for 15 months. The lesson here: unlike in the board game Monopoly, when it comes to ATM’s in real life, there’s no such thing as an “error in your favor.” Therefore, if an ATM gives you more money than you know you have in your account, or if you go up to an ATM and find someone else’s money lying around, report the issue to a bank manager with the extra cash in hand. It’s not worth going jail over a mistake that wasn’t even yours to begin with.
Perhaps the most common “glitch” that occurs at ATM’s isn’t really a glitch at all. It’s called the “cash retract.” If you order a certain amount of cash from an ATM, but you don’t take that cash out right away, then that money will shoot back inside the ATM after 30 seconds. Imagine this scenario: you order $50 in cash from an ATM inside a bank. But just as the money is coming out, your young child runs away from you, and you have to chase her throughout the bank to retrieve her. You return more than 35 seconds later only to find your $50 is not there – it’s returned to the cash dispenser inside the machine. Yet it’s likely you’ll still have that $50 deducted from your account. What you should do in such a situation is let a bank employee know about it right away, so you can be sure that you’ll be reimbursed.
In fact, that really is an important message to repeat and to end on: whenever you are the victim of any kind of ATM glitch, notify your bank immediately, as doing so offers you the best chance of getting fully and promptly compensated.