"Just because they're handling your money doesn't
mean they are rocket scientists. Banks put a lot of pressure on
their staff in a sweatshop kind of atmosphere," says Ed Mierzwinski,
consumer program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research
Group, a consumer advocacy group.
Sometimes discussions with the bank reach a stalemate and the
only thing to do is go straight to the regulatory agency to resolve
the dispute. Let the bank know that you know they have a state or
federal regulator, and that you will be complaining, says Mierzwinski.
of limitations for errors
When the bank happens to take $120 out
of your account when you only got $60 from the ATM, you have a window of 60 days
to dispute the transaction. After that -- too bad, so sad and don't bother complaining
to the bank. A federal law known as the Electronic Funds Transfer Act limits the
period in which you can notify your bank of a mistake in your account to 60 days
from the date the statement containing the error was sent.
If your debit card gets lost or stolen, better act
quickly because you have two measly business days to completely
limit your liability to a cap of $50. Check transactions are governed
by a separate set of rules, the Uniform Commercial Code and the
Check 21 Act in the case of substitute
checks, which also limit the time you have to dispute a transaction
-- except in the case of electronic check conversion wherein you're
once again covered by the EFTA.
How long does a bank have to take back money they
mistakenly put into your account? It varies by state, but is measured
in years, not days and they have the threat of jail to back up their
EFTA is a very weak law, and a lot of the time these situations are covered by
it. But it doesn't, generally, do much for the consumer," says Mierzwinski. "Banks
don't have a soul. Increasingly, all they're looking for is ways to make money."
a consumer to do?
So, what should you do if you find yourself in
temporary possession of your bank's money? "If it is a very large amount of money,
you would be naive to think that it's your money. And, if it's not your money,
they're going to want it back," says Mierzwinksi. "It's another story if it's
a small amount. If you do spend it by mistake, I would insist that the bank give
you a reasonable amount of time to pay it off. Or, they should write it off entirely
as an act of good faith."
When you notice the error, Mierzwinksi
recommends alerting the bank. Don't speak with the first teller you get to or
the person answering the phone on the customer service line. Go to a supervisor.
Linda Sherry, director of national priorities for
Consumer Action, advises that while speaking with someone at the
bank document everything and get a specific time frame. "Ask when
they expect the investigation will be complete and write down the
name of the person you speak with, the time and date."
"If the date given for the end of the investigation
arrives and the money is still in the account and you have to follow
up, you are getting on much firmer ground for keeping the money.
You do your duty by making the report.
can't take the cash out and go fling it at a teller," Sherry says.
spoken with people who have done everything they can to give the money back but
it's very difficult. You have to leave the money in the account so they can figure
out how it got there in the first place."