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When ATMs Malfunction

When trying to obtain money from a nearby ATM and you hear your money being distributed, but the door does not open, most obviously you will go inside the bank to have them tell you there was nothing they could do until the person who can open the ATM arrives. You give them your name and number with their promise of a call back that does not happen in all cases. Then you trek back to the bank, and the bank officers act as if they never seen you before and state that the person who opens the ATM did not report any money left in the withdrawal door. You wonder - how will I get my money back?

If an ATM gobbles your card, gives you the wrong amount of money, or gives you no money at all, talking to a bank officer, in some instances, is a no-win situation.

It’s not that the bank does not want to be helpful, it’s that there are specific procedures to follow when an ATM malfunctions.

People get very upset when they cannot get their cards back. The people in the bank have no way of knowing why your card was captured in the first place.

ATM cards are eaten up because they’re supposed to - maybe because the card is defective, or it’s known to be compromised, or maybe it’s involved in a fraudulent transaction. The ATM may get instructions from the bank that issued the card: "Don’t let that card get away.

Who’s responsible?

When an ATM malfunctions, call the bank that issued you the card. The same is true whether the ATM is owned by a bank or is a generic machine, such as the ones often found in convenience stores or entertainment venues.

"The FACS’s financial institution is responsible for following up any malfunction," says Mary Brown of PULSE, an electronic funds-transfer network that links 60 million cardholders with 78,000 ATMs nationwide.

If you’re at your own bank’s ATM during business hours, you may be able to get a replacement card by telling branch personnel about the problem, but don’t expect to get your old card back. Bank personnel can’t just open the ATM and hand back the card. If you’re not a customer, branch personnel won’t be able to retrieve your card or issue a replacement.

The facts of ATM cards and service is that if you’re not a customer of the bank, personnel can’t know anything that allows them to identify you. If you use your card at another bank institution, the only data available about you is on the magnetic stripe – information that ensures it’s a real card that was issued properly – and the PIN, which the ATM immediately encrypts. Even if the card was taken out of the machine, there’s still no proof that it’s yours.

Most likely, your only option is to wait for a new card that may take up to ten business days.

Only if you are a customer of the particular bank they should be able to get your account information and tell you if a transaction was completed or not, why the card wasn’t returned, and settle with you right then if necessary. Don’t be surprised if some banks make you wait for a cash problem to be resolved.

The financial institution can submit an adjustment to their ATM network. It goes to the owner of the machine, and it’s routed through the audit trail. It’s part of the internal management of the system.

Call the money line

Many ATMs have a dedicated phone line that’s open 24 hours a day. A computer monitors the ATM and sends messages to a computer on the other end of the phone line if there’s a problem. A technician can then be notified if the problem is something branch personnel can’t handle.

If you try to use an ATM and see a message that the machine is out of order, there’s a good chance a technician has already been notified of the problem.

Other ATMs have a dial-up connection and may not be monitored 24 hours a day for malfunctions. In general, ATMs have a good reputation for reliability.   

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