Originally created 12/31/01

Good question

Q. What is the best thing to do if an automated teller machine does not dole out the correct amount of money or, worse, takes a debit card without giving it back?

A. The American Bankers Association says the first place consumers should contact is the financial institution that issued the card because it has the sole authority to undo any adjustments made to a savings or checking account.

If the ATM is on the premises of the bank that issued the card, a temporary solution can often be reached within hours. But with many consumers withdrawing funds from ATMs at such places as convenience stores and sports stadiums, the problem is hardly ever resolved that quickly.

Federal guidelines that regulate the ATM industry generally favor consumers, experts say, but it is important to contact the issuer of the card promptly so that any improper debits or credits to an account are corrected in a timely fashion.

If the card was "captured" at an ATM at a branch of a customer's own bank, an employee there should be able to help out.

While the teller will not be able to immediately retrieve the captured card, he or she can usually give the customer a temporary debit card, said Cindy Ballard, executive vice president of marketing at PULSE, a non-profit electronic banking network run by thousands of financial institutions to connect 60 million cardholders with 78,000 ATMs nationwide.

"A lot of financial institutions will issue them right there in the lobby, although it might not be until the next day before it's activated," Ballard said.

When a card is captured at a non-branch ATM - typically because there is concern that it may have been used in a fraudulent manner - the only way to get it back is if the user's bank can verify there was some kind of mixup within 24 hours, Ballard said.

It is fruitless to gripe to the manager of a convenience store where an ATM is located, she added, and it could, in fact, be counterproductive. Instead, try and found out when the company that services the machine is due to send an employee to that location. If there is some kind of mixup, it is possible to get the card back.

The company that owns the ATM is allowed, under federal laws, to return the card after if they can confirm with the financial institution that issued it that the card was captured in error. But if there is no confirmation within 24 hours, the company can shred the card, Ballard said. Outside the United States, ATM owners must wait 48 hours.

Ballard said ATM technology is improving and that fewer cards are being captured in error. Nonetheless, she admits to taking extra precautions when she's traveling abroad.

On a recent trip to France Ballard used her ATM card frequently to withdraw funds and knew that if anything went wrong she had a backup plan - "I told my husband, 'Make sure you bring your ATM card as well.' So we had two cards for one account. I'm a very cautious person."


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