Exclusive: Woman says her life savings was held hostage by Chase Bank after she deposited check at ATM
An 80-year-old woman says when she tried to deposit a six-figure check at an ATM, the bank said they couldn't deposit it or give it back. This issue went on for two months.
Mary Smith, of Amityville, received a $223,785.32 check after selling her home in December and moving into a trailer. She wanted to downsize and the money was her life savings.
Since Chase Bank does not have a dollar limit on ATM deposits, she deposited the check into her account at the drive-thru ATM in Merrick.
The money never went into her account—at least, not at first.
"I felt terrible, terrible," Smith said. "I really needed the money."
Chase Bank initially told Smith in a letter that they could not process the check for deposit through the ATM and would return the check in 10 days. Instead, they held onto it for several weeks.
Smith got a lawyer to help resolve the issue. Charles Rosenblum, managing partner at Krohn, Rosenblum & Rosenblum, worked pro-bono to try to get answers from Chase. Those answers didn't come easily.
"All they could say was it's a non-negotiable instrument and they actually told her that it was possibly a fraud, that she could've lost her life savings and she should go to the police," said Rosenblum. "They never called the issuing bank to say, 'Is this a good check?'"
The check, though, was real.
Meanwhile, Smith slept on a couch in her trailer because she had no money for furniture. She had planned to buy a car with the money, and without one, she had to take taxis to her doctor's appointments.
She could not buy any of her great-grandchildren Christmas presents and she could barely afford food.
"I had mayonnaise sandwiches! I had to borrow money from somebody to pay my rent," explained Smith.
Rosenblum filed a federal complaint with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), a bureau within the U.S. Treasury Department that regulates national banks.
In the complaint, he called Chase's conduct "egregious" and said Smith would have to wait 90 days for a new check if they issued a stop payment to the issuing bank. Smith could not afford to wait 90 days.
"It wasn't until that complaint was filed that they finally woke up, assigned it to someone who was able to look at it and ultimately return the check," Rosenblum said. "Nobody should ever have to go through that type of ordeal by a bank or any institution."
Team 12 Investigates reached out to Chase about the two-month delay. Over the phone, a spokesperson said they initially thought there was an issue with the check and that two months is the standard timeframe for verification. They would not explain what they thought the issue was due to "privacy concerns."
A spokesperson also said it took time to find the check after it was deposited in the ATM, but did not say that the dollar amount played any role in the delay.
"We appreciate Ms. Smith's patience. We strive to make sure all deposits are valid," a Chase spokesperson wrote in an email.
Smith said she learned her lesson about making deposits through an ATM and never plans to do it again. She can finally close the book on this cautionary tale, thanks to the help from Rosenblum and support from her family.
"Thank god that I got the money," Smith said, "I don't know where I'd go. I'd go somewhere where they'd have to take care of me, you know."
This time around, Smith deposited the money with a different bank.