If there is one thing Sheila Levy-Bencheton took for granted, the security deposit box her father rented from a large bank was safe.
That was until her father passed away in 2017 at the age of 103.
The Toronto woman went to TD Canada Trust to empty the box a few months later, and discovered that the bank had already done it years ago – forcing it to open by drilling the lock and emptying the contents.
The bank drilled open and emptied thousands of security deposit boxes across the country in 2012 in an effort to remove or pay for those no longer in use. He says his policies require the content to be put aside for safekeeping.
But Levy-Bencheton says she is still failing her family’s most valuable property and is fighting for damages.
And she’s not the only one. Go Public also spoke to an Edmonton man who lost thousands of dollars worth of irreversible 22-karat gold jewelry, World Health Organization he said the bank did the same for him.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone,” said Suraj Khatiwada.
He and Levy-Bencheton say they can’t believe the bank would open the boxes and take away their belongings.
“The reason you have a security deposit box is to put things specifically in a very safe place and not interfere with it. This obviously interfered with it,” Levy-Bencheton said.
Missing, she says, is her mother’s 18-year-old diamond ring–karat gold watches purchased in 1947, gold and silver coins and thousands of dollars in cash. Those are the items that her father – still unclear at his older age – told her he had stayed in the bank to keep her safe.
She’s not sure exactly how much cash, but says her father was kept there because her parents survived the Holocaust, so they were always concerned about easy access to money and valuables just in case that they need to run.
“That was the kind of mentality they lived with,” he said.
But instead of getting the cash and jewelry, the bank gave Levy-Bencheton a pile of paperwork and receipts, a few silver dollar coins and an empty ring box, saying it was all there was.
Experts say that banks operate security deposit boxes as a side business, with few rules other than the ones they attach to themselves.
“It’s called a security deposit box, but it’s really just a contract that has all kinds of provisions in it to protect the banks from liability,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, an advocacy group for corporate responsibility and reform ‘ the law. .
Levy-Bencheton says the TD rules meant he didn’t need to prove anything.
He asked for bank records showing who had accessed the box before it was drilled open, and for a copy of the registered letter the bank said he sent her father before opening. Neither did the bank, he said.
“It made me skeptical,” Levy-Bencheton said. “God knows what happened there.”
TD tells Go Public that the family box was accidentally opened, as part of a “network-wide reconciliation process” – one of the 16,000 boxes he drilled open in 2012 for reasons including late rent, keys lost or where “required by law.”
The bank says it has one million boxes nationwide and the need to drill it open is rare.
$ 250 ‘goodwill gesture’
Levy-Bencheton fought for more than a year to get any compensation.
At first, a bank manager told her the box never existed, but says she “didn’t feel right” as the family had two sets of keys and her father told her everything.
So, on a whim, a family member called TD customer service about a week later and asked again.
“And within five minutes, he got back in the line. He said, ‘Yeah, he was here [but] it was drilled in 2012, ‘”Levy-Bencheton said.” I couldn’t believe it. “
When the family asked why he had two different stories, the bank said the manager was “newer to the role and not as inventive” as the employee on the phone.
The bank said there would be no compensation as the family could not prove what was in the box and the bank had no records.
Instead, he offered $ 250 as a “goodwill gesture.”
Levy-Bencheton declined the offer and then moved her complaint up to a TD ombudsman.
That went nowhere. Three levels of complaint later, in October 2018, the private national mediation firm that deals with TD complaints – ADR Chambers – said there was a 50-50 chance of valuables and cash was missing.
After doing free accounting, the company found the jewelry to be worth about $ 8,400, and TD recommended paying half that amount to Levy-Bencheton and her family.
ADR has been criticized for being biased towards the banks it investigates because they pay fees for its service.
Levy-Bencheton rejected the offer, saying it is not starting to pay for the family’s losses. She also wants the bank to have to pay a large penalty.
“We don’t really know how many were there [but] it was more than that for sure, “he said.
“It caused us a lot of aggravation. We’ve lost a lot of sentimental stuff and the only language the bank knows is money … so we have to hit them where it hurts.”
The family has hired paralegal George Berger to help get answers from TD – and perhaps file a lawsuit.
“They refused to provide information about what exactly happened,” Berger said.
‘Once it’s gone, it’s gone’
Suraj Khatiwada of Edmonton is still missing his wife’s 22-karat wedding bangles, necklaces and wedding ring after TD Canada’s Trust also “inadvertently” opened its security deposit box without his permission.
He says it happened sometime between 2015, the last he opened the box himself, and 2017, when he discovered the bank had drilled the lock.
After months of back and forth and an investigation by the bank’s ombudsman, TD apologized and awarded him $ 12,000 for the lost jewelry. He says he had no proof, but provided photos of the jewelry to the bank.
At the time the bank promised to investigate, but has not yet explained how the items went missing.
“That’s a very unfortunate thing … we can’t replace the sentimental value of those things,” said Khatiwada, who immigrated from Nepal in 2010.
“In Western culture, the wedding ring is very valuable. But in our culture, the necklace and also the ring. We have a special ring ceremony, so they can’t be changed.”
TD spokeswoman Carla Hindman says the bank has protocols for enforcing open security deposit boxes including, “ensuring that at least two employees, one of whom must be a manager, are always present at to them [staff] securely extract, catalog, package and store the content. “But he did not say whether those rules were followed in the two cases that Go Public looked at.
Banks have been criticized for not taking enough care with security deposit boxes.
In 2002, a CC court awarded more than $ 20,000 in compensation to a woman after a drill TD opened it, after mistakenly concluding that her rent was in arrears.
And in 2001 and 2006, Canada’s privacy commissioner broadly banks were criticized for incorrect record keeping and for breach of privacy rules regarding box opening.
The commissioner did not name which bank or banks were involved in those complaints.
Conacher, in Democracy Watch, says bank customers are being forced to fight these long battles because rules for how banks manage security deposit boxes are not part of the Bank of Canada Act and are largely unencumbered regulation.
He says the lack of government rules makes it difficult for Canadians to get fair compensation when banks abuse boxes.
Provincial estate laws mention security deposit boxes but are limited to how beneficiaries access after death.
“If [something] going missing, then you not only have a contract that protects the bank, but you also have the burden of proof to prove that the bank has not handled that box properly.
“That’s a really big barrier for any consumer trying to climb over to get liability,” Conacher said. He calls on the federal government to update the Bank Act to include security deposit boxes.
Go Public asked the Finance Department whether Ottawa intends to make changes. In a statement, he would only say that he regularly reviews laws, “to make sure Canada has the protections they need.”
Unlike regular bank deposits, Conacher says, the contents of security deposit boxes are not insured by financial institutions, so owners need to insure valuables themselves as part of home insurance policies and regularly document what’s inside in with pictures and witnesses.
Levy-Bencheton and Khatiwada say that after their experiences, they are made with safety deposit boxes.
Khatiwada says he still has an account with TD that includes using a deposit box, but told Go Public it is sitting empty.
“I lost my trust,” he said.
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