Safety deposit boxes are not so safe

 

Those of us who don’t rent bank safety deposit boxes for our valuables probably imagine the set-up to involve fingerprint-accessed vault-like doors and a cobweb of alarmed beams, as in the movies.

It wasn’t quite like that, said one of the victims of the December 18 First National Bank Randburg branch heist in which 360 boxes were stolen.

“Zai” of Randburg, who did not want to be named, happened to be at the bank yesterday when most of the boxes were returned to the branch by what appeared to be a private security company.

Police found the empty boxes dumped near FNB Stadium in Soweto two days after the heist.

All the valuables, including watches, Krugerrands, and jewellery passed down generations were gone. Only documents such as title deeds were left behind.

Zai’s family had rented the box since about 2004, she said, and at the time of the theft were renting it at R120 a month.

“Ironically, it was quite a big deal for us to access our boxes,” said Zai, who last did so in October.

“You had to make an appointment at least 24 hours in advance.

“Someone would meet you and take you into a room, and lock the door behind you. I’d have to produce my ID, then he’d go into another room, a vault, where the boxes were kept, lock that door behind him and then pass my box to me through a slot in the wall.

“I never saw any of the other boxes. I opened my box with two keys, in my possession, and then I’d be left alone to do what I needed to do, and then I’d phone to say that I was finished, so they could take the box back into the vault.

“It seemed very safe and professional,” she said.

In early December Zai’s husband asked her to collect their six expensive watches from the box to have them serviced.

“But I was too busy and now they are all gone,” she said.

FNB’s safety deposit contract states the bank will not be legally responsible “under any circumstances for any loss or damage that may occur to the contents” and officials have said they had no way of knowing what was in the stolen boxes and urged clients to insure the contents of the boxes.

By Wendy Knowler for Timeslive

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