Las Vegas ATM stole $990 — can you help recover it?

Question: I wanted to ask you about an ATM dispute that occurred last August. I tried to obtain funds from a single ATM in Las Vegas multiple times and my card was continuously declined. I received no cash. The following day, I checked my online banking and it showed that these transactions were pending on my checking account.

I then contacted Bank of America customer service and the representative assured me that if I did not receive any funds then my account would reflect this the following Tuesday.

To my obvious disappointment, the transactions indeed posted, causing a chain reaction of filing a claim with the bank and a lot of time spent on the phone attempting to resolve this issue. In short, there were 5 or 6 transactions totaling $990 and the bank temporarily credited that amount back to me while the claim process was in effect and was being looked into by their investigators.

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I assumed everything was settled after not receiving any correspondence for multiple weeks. Then I received word that Bank of America ultimately determined that the “transactions” were legitimate and they pulled the funds back out of my account that they reimbursed.

As you can imagine, I feel pretty alone in my fight. If I did receive these funds, I would have just moved on. However, I certainly did not, which is why I have invested so much time and been so persistent. You are somewhat of a last resort and I would greatly appreciate any help I could get. — Tim Crawford, Waterloo, Iowa

Answer: The ATM should have dispensed the cash, as requested. If it didn’t, then your bank account shouldn’t have been charged for the withdrawal. But figuring out exactly what happened is no easy matter.

You sent me your correspondence between you and Bank of America, your bank. And it appears the bank initially sided with you, crediting you for the $990, and then sided with the company operating the ATM. But it offered no details about why it changed its mind.

I contacted both Bank of America and the company, Columbus Data Services. A Bank of America representative contacted me immediately and agreed to review your case. A day later, she called me back to explain the review process.

When an ATM transaction is questioned, the company operating the automatic teller reviews its records, which includes video surveillance and an audit of the cash in the machine. If the review determines that you didn’t receive the cash or that somehow the money wasn’t dispensed — for example, if the bills stuck together — then the company will notify your bank, and the provisional credit becomes permanent.

If, however, the video surveillance shows that you accepted the money or if the machine is $990 short, then the credit is reversed. And that’s exactly what the review showed, according to Bank of America. It says you got the money.

For what it’s worth, I believe you. I think something went wrong with your transaction, but I don’t know what happened. Bank of America won’t give me details, citing privacy considerations. I am still waiting to hear back from Columbus Data Services.

I think the only way you’ll be able to find out what Columbus and Bank of America know is to sue them in small claims court. The companies will have to show the judge the video footage and ATM records from the day you allegedly made your withdrawal.

I wish I could do more to help you, but I’ve taken this as far as I can.

Did Bank of America do enough for Tim Crawford?

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75 thoughts on “Las Vegas ATM stole $990 — can you help recover it?

  1. In Vegas, who can tell the difference between an ATM and a slot machine ??? !!! …
    He played, several times, he lost …

  2. I wonder if this could be a form of theft? Thief puts a card reader on the machine, innocent customer tries transaction and gets a declined message, thief goes back with a dummy card and gets the money. The machine would still balance. Not every ATM has video, so that may or may not be a factor.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. Even if there was video, what it would have shown is SOMEONE taking $990 from the machine, with the now stolen card number. They wouldn’t have any way of knowing if it was Mr. Crawford or the thief.

      I have to wonder, though, if you come across an ATM machine that declines your card, why on earth would you repeatedly try to take money from it??? If your card is declined once, I can understand; it’s easy enough to transpose your PIN accidentally. But a second decline is usually a sure sign of trouble, and a good reason to walk away!

      1. Agree, the multiple attempts is what’s not making any sense. As you say, maybe twice. But ‘five or six’ times?

        Also, after review of the bank statement, the OP doesn’t know if it’s ‘five’ or if it’s ‘six?’ There are either five or there are six transactions and the OP should know how many there were. This whole thing smells fishy. Gonna have to side with B of A this time.

    2. I wondered about that. However, the withdrawals on the online statement matched the ones that the OP attempted. I would think that a thief would just make a single withdrawal for the max amount instead of trying to match the ones attempted by the OP.

      1. There was a scam around here for awhile where a “helpful stranger” would approach people using their ATM cards. “Oh, is it not working? How much were you trying to take out? Cuz you know, there’s a max on this machine…”

        That’s why I wonder about the skimmer scam.

      2. Yeah, I’m struggling with the fact the withdrawal amounts matched. A thief would have taken out the max amount possible. Unless that is what the OP also happened to be doing, I don’t see how the amounts and the number of transactions could be the same.

        Also, presumably the times of the transactions would have to of been close enough for the OP to assume it really was them, meaning the thief would have had to of approached the ATM pretty promptly after the OP had left. And you would think during the review that they’d have noticed somebody trying multiple times and not getting any money from the machine shortly before this transaction.

        1. “A thief would have taken out the max amount possible.”

          You would be surprised. I had some credit card checks stolen out of my mailbox once. The thief wrote herself a check for $180. Another time a scammer counterfeited a credit card using my card number, and bought a $23 lunch and a $30 train pass before the card company froze the account. You never know how thief logic works these days.

    3. I think this is what happened. People stuff paper or something in the bill feeder, when money is dispensed the bills are trapped behind the paper. After someone uses the machine thief returns, dislodges paper and retrieves money.

      However, I think it’s kind of weird that this happened at multiple machines in Vegas. Unless all the ATMs this person used were by the same company I find it hard to believe that they all failed, and all were short money and none was dispensed.

      1. this sounds about right,.because now all the bank sees is
        -OP was at the atm
        -OP’s pin was used.

        therefore OP got money- this is as far as bank logic goes.

        he cnanot win this

  3. Was this person on vacation? Wouldn’t they need to file small claims where this occurred, or can they do it anywhere since BOA is a national chain?

    She needs to file a police report immediately. If someone was stealing from her account, the bank would require a police report. The only difference here is the bank and ATM company are the thieves. Maybe the bank will show the so-called proof to the police?

    1. “Was this person on vacation? Wouldn’t they need to file small claims where this occurred, or can they do it anywhere since BOA is a national chain?”

      I’m assuming that the OP is a BofA account holder. As such, he could make an argument that his home state has jurisdiction because that’s where his account is “presumably” located.

      1. You are correct…the claim would be filed where the initial “contract” in this case the account disclosures were signed. The state where the account was opened would have jurisdiction. With that said, many banks will have in the disclosure something to the effect of “all disputes are governed by the laws of (whatever) state.” This is there to protec the bank by forcing your hand to sue them in a state where they are most likely to win. Other banks will have a binding arbitration clause in their contracts. It’s all the same…make it as difficult for the customer as possible.

        1. Hmm…I opened an account years ago at a bank that was later absorbed by BOA. I have since moved across the country and still use BOA (which I hate…but I digress)…I wonder of I would bound by the state where I opened the account or where I now reside in a case such as this?

  4. I’m wondering if the problem was somewhere before the ATM. The ATM makes the request but is given a decline message. However, the system to validate the transaction still processes and takes the money. The end result is the ATM still balances out, but the money is still gone. The audit of the ATM won’t show anything.

      1. What I am saying is if there is a system between the ATM and BofA, that system is the one that got the approval from BofA yet sent a decline to the ATM.

        1. In that case the bank operating the ATM woudl be out of balance, as they woudl have additional money to account for.

          1. And that is the problem. The story says that the procedure is to balance the ATM, not the systems between the bank and ATM. So while the ATM balances out, no one connected the out of balance system with this transaction. And even then, that system may still be balanced because it processed a valid transaction but told the ATM it was invalid. Everything still balances out because of the erroneous denial to the ATM.

          2. Part of the process of balancing an ATM involves also balancing the account that feeds the ATM network or node, and the sub account for each ATM. I used to work with ATMs for many yeas, and have even shared some stories about them on here in the past. I doubt Chris would want to explain the whole process in the article, so simply saying they balanced the ATM is good enough. If they money moved from US Bank to the ATMs bank, and never dispensed, they would be out of balance, period. And if the ATM’s bank has a fraud investigation from BoA, they are going to balance everything to look for the money. If they money transferred and was never dispenses, it would be easily found.

            Banks have much more creative ways of ripping people off. Hiding an out-of-balance ATM transaction woudl not be worth the banks time, nor make enough money for them to mitigate the risk.

  5. I have to admit being somewhat skeptical of the OP’s story. Specifically because of the amount allegedly withdrawn, 5 or 6 transactions which total $990.00, just shy of the daily ATM withdrawal limit imposed by most accounts. That seems strange.

    Also, five transactions totaling 990 would be $198 per transaction. 6 transactions would be $165 per transaction. Neither are amounts which can be withdrawn from most ATM machines.

    I suppose that the OP could have tried continually lower amounts until he got frustrated, but that scenario has issues. If your ATM card is declined, there are two common reasons. Wrong Pin or insufficient funds.

    If its the wrong pin you would most likely try the same withdrawal amount, which is $165 or $198. Neither amount makes sense. Also, after continually entering the wrong pin, the bank’s fraud alerts get activated, either confiscated the card (if possible), blocking the card, etc.

    Re: insufficient funds. Nowhere does the OP suggest that he was declined for insufficient funds.

    1. The odd amount is likely related to a surcharge taken by the company that owns the ATM. Those surcharges can vary greatly. Some even get into cents ($4.95, for example).

      I’d wager that the OP got scammed by an ATM skimmer. Crooks place a device over the top of the actual card scanner. It gathers the info so that criminals can create fake debit cards. If he could get his hands on surveillance footage, he could prove it wasn’t him getting the cash. Of course, that won’t happen without a lawyer getting involved.

      1. If it were a skimmer, why would the criminal withdraw money in the same amounts that the OP tried. Why not a single 900+ withdrawal?

        Re: the video tape. If the OP filed in small claims, he could have the court issue a subpoena for the tape.

        1. Would the OP even have to? Seems like it might be somewhat upto BoA to provide that in their defense. Wouldn’t she just need to prove the money was taken out of her account?

          1. I can prove lots of money has been taken out of my account. That doesn’t prove I was robbed.

          2. No but if you add your testimony that you didn’t take the money, then the bank needs that video to rebut your testimony

          3. It really depends on the judge… if BofA had their own witness show up and testify that they did an investigation and it proved he got the money, some judges would say that he didn’t meet his burden. You have to prove your case. That’s why criminal defendants can just sit around and do nothing if the prosecution doesn’t prove the case (same is true in civil, but the burden is so much lower that you really don’t want to do that… don’t really want to in criminal, either but you could). I wouldn’t want to hang my hat on just testimony…

          4. Well…. not really. It’s up to him to prove he didn’t get the money, technically. Now, he could just use his testimony to prove that, but BofA could just say that didn’t meet the burden of proof. That’s why you need to subpoena the tape… so you can show it wasn’t you.

        2. And not just the amounts and number of transactions matched…the time of the transaction also must have been very close to when the OP tried. The thief would have to of walked up to the machine and did EXACTLY what the OP had done very shortly after he’d left.

  6. There is a Bank of America branded machine on the fourth level of the M&M’s store in Las Vegas. That’s the one I use. I can’t get $990 out of it, but I have never felt comfortable with those ones in the casinos. However, there should be video available of what went on. Good luck.

    1. I agree with Bill. I try to avoid those ATMs that aren’t my bank’s because I don’t want to get charged exorbitant fees. If I were the OP, unless she really needed cash that badly, I’d go to where there’s a B of A (I use US Bank) and get the money from there.

  7. This seems a little odd to me that the OP said 5 or 6 transactions. I would know exactly what the transactions looked like on my account before contacting Chris. Wouldn’t her statement of the original charge(s) be part of her evidence? There’s likely a ATM fee associated with this, too, so the machine wouldn’t be $990 short. It would be something like $980 short due to the extra ~$10 fees assuming $1.50-$2.00 per transaction).

  8. I really don’t know which side of the story is correct.

    If the review showed that the OP is on video receiving the money then the case is closed and he tried to use Chris to rip off the bank.

    On the other hand it appears that the review might have consisted of determining that the money was dispensed therefore the OP is on the hook.

    What did the bank base its review on?

    Video (OP is a scammer).

    Money Dispensed (Bank does not know who received the money. OP probably a victim).

  9. Shouldn’t BoA have to provide him with the evidence against his denied claim?

    I’m wondering which “privacy considerations” they are referring to? If the OP asked them directly, instead of through Chris, would it make a difference in them handing over the footage?
    And for those people counting the money and saying that the amounts don’t make sense. IF he was using a non-BoA ATM, he could have easily tried to pull out $160 (+$2 ATM Fee & $3 BoA Fee) making the grand total $990.00.
    The real issue here is why would someone attempt this 6 times? After 2 failed attempts, most reasonable people would give up. After 4, anyone with a brain would start looking for the phone number that is on every single ATM to call for help.
    I honestly can’t say after reading this, I believe the OP. To me it sounds like he was drunk and didn’t rememeber pulling money out of the ATM, or did and lost it gambling and tried to claim he never got the money…

    1. It’s a possibility the OP is trying to commit fraud. Assuming he’s not, i think the only way the OP is going to get the footage is to go to small claims court. If BOA even bothers to show up, they will at least have to explain the process and show what evidence they have.

  10. I’m with those thinking that the OP fell victim to a skimmer scam. He needs to call the LVPD asap and file a police report. If someone was skimming, he won’t be the only victim.

    1. Excellent point about the police report. That might be his best shot at getting BoA to take another look at this. (But shouldn’t there probably of been more than one victim at this same ATM? Wouldn’t BoA already have heard about it if that were the case?)

      The other problem I see is the OP is saying the total amount and the number of transactions matched what they’d attempted, and presumably the times were close enough for them to believe it was really their transactions. That would mean the thief would have to of made the withdrawals almost immediately after the OP had left, did the same number of transactions, and more the exact same amount. Unless that also happened to be the only way to get the max amount out possible, why would they do that?

      1. @Joe_D_Messina:disqus My read on this is that it was the “fake” ATM scam where the scammers use an ATM that isn’t connected to the network to capture the mag strip information and the pin. They then burn another card and go to a “real” ATM.

        I will admit that I found the exact same amounts and number of attempts suspicious. I also found it suspicious that the guy had $1000 stolen from him and he contacts a consumer advocate before the police. I was trying to have an anti-House day and find a way that no one was lying 🙂

        1. Sometimes I think I’m a cynic…but sadly most times it seems like I’m just a realist. 😉 I will say the odd number of transactions cuts both ways: It makes no sense for the crook to do that, but it also makes little sense for the OP to do it unless there really was a problem with the machine. (Only other possibility that comes to mind is maybe some elaborate ploy to convince a spouse the money was stolen and not just lost gambling. It is Vegas, after all.(

  11. He lost me at “5 or 6” transactions. If it were me, and I were being truthful, I’d know exactly how many transactions it was. We only have one guy’s word against a company’s word, but my money is on the fact that they’ve got a video of him taking the cash.

  12. If this happened in a casino they would have proof either way of what happened. You are much more likely to get ripped on the street than in a casino, after all they have perfectly legal ways to get your money.

  13. I had the opposite happen, i took $600 out of an atm in the bahamas. I was told there was a $3 fee and was charged $21. I called the bank who told me they would reverse the $18 difference and reversed the whole thing. They even argued with me about it at on the phone when i told them they gave me to much. I took it and ran.

  14. Dirt simple, ask to see the video. The privacy claim is a dodge. All they needed to do is ask if he would sign a privacy waiver to turn over the video. The video will either show him standing At the machine taking money, or not. At that point all he needs to do is to turn over a copy of his drivers license photo that we can see if it’s him.

    1. Presumably, BofA already asked the OP for a copy of his license so they would know whether it was him withdrawing the money

  15. He’ll have to file a police report-and sue. That’s about all you can do with a bank that doesn’t want to believe you.

  16. I have 2 theories.

    1. Someone put a skimmer on the ATM, and disconnected it form the network so it would decline, took a full swipe of Crawford’s card, and watched him enter the pin. Then re-created the card, went back, and re-entered the transactions. What I find fishy is why would Crawfor try 5 or 6 times if it was declined? And why would the thief make 5 or 6 transactions, and for the same amounts Crawford tried?

    2. Crawford lost all his money to the Casino, felt badly, and wanted to win it back. He took out some money from the ATM, and lost it all, so he wanted to win that back too. He went back to the ATM, took out more, and lost it all as well. He did this 5 or 6 times until he hit his daily limit and the card got declined. Sub theory 2A: His wife, girlfriend, partner wanted to know where they money went, so he explained he kept using the ATM and it kept getting declined, and made up the story to save face, and keeps perusing it at the partners direction. Or, sub theory 2B: Crawford is so upset with him self for losing the money he is determined to get it back by coming up with this elaborate story about repeatedly trying the ATM.

    Now, for those of you who suggest he sue in small claims court and ask to see the footage. I agree, that woudl solve this once and for all. Though I think he would actually have to sue the ATM operator, not BoA.

    1. He’s sure BofA because that’s where the money was ultimately debited, but he could subpoena the ATM operator even though they are not a party

      1. Wouldn’t his dispute be with the ATM operator and not BoA, his bank?

        At the time of using the ATM, he conducted business with the ATM operator which gave him cash and with his permission debited his BoA account. Therefore the ATM operator is the party with which he has the dispute.

        BoA opened a case when he said the debit was fraudulent, so BoA worked with the ATM operator who stated the debit was in fact correct. I don’t believe BoA can not do anymore. It would be just like doing business with any company, if that company charges by debiting their BoA account, why would he sue BoA if the company doesn’t deliver?

        1. The ATM operator is acting as the agent of BofA ultimately, the purpose of the lawsuit is to get BofA to reverse the debit.

          1. I don’t see how that would hold up. BoAs defense would be that they gave money to the ATM operator when the customer used his card with the ATM, and that internally they investigated it and the ATM Operator stated it was a valid charge. If I can sue BoA because a third party ATM didn’t dispense money, that would be no different than suing BoA because enterprise charged my debit card for fake damage.

            I do not see how the private ATM Operator was acting as an agent of BoA. If this was a BoA ATM, then I would agree with you 100%. But as it is not, I don’t see how they could sue BoA for this.

          2. Fairly straightforward. The private ATM operator is not giving money to the customer out of the goodness of its heart. The private ATM operator is taking its marching orders from BofA. If BofA says release the funds, it releases them. If BofA says don’t release the funds, the funds are not released.

            The legal error that you are making is seeing two seperate contracts. A BofA/Operator contract and an Operator/Customer contract. The correct way to look at this is BofA/Customer with the ATM operator acting to facilitate that transaction.

          3. A store also does not give you merchandise out of the goodness of its heart when you purchase something with your debit/credit card. If you do not receive the merchandise, or it is defective, you pursue the merchant to make it right.

            Same here. The ATM operator (if it was an ATM and not a script dispenser which requires you to take a piece of paper to a cashier) is the merchant. The OP claims to have not received the goods(cash) paid for. The dispute starts with the operator of the machine.

          4. Inapplicable analogy.

            The store is the owner of the goods which are sold. By contrast, the ATM operator has no authority over the account by which the funds are withdrawn. Thus they are not analogous scenarios.

            Consider: If I purchase something from Amazon but the box contains the wrong item, do I pursue the issue with UPS. Of course not. UPS is merely the deliver means. Same here. The ATM operator is much like UPS in this regard.

            Even if the item arrives damaged, I return the item to Amazon and let Amazon and UPS duke it out between themselves.

            As far as where the dispute starts, the old adage “follow the money” applies. The money is missing from the BofA account. As such, that is the correct place to begin.

          5. Yes… Carver is correct. The ATM owner was acting as BofA’s agent. The ATM owner does not have person’s money… BofA has the money and the ATM owner is just facilitating the transaction of getting money from BofA to person, and taking a transaction fee. Basic agency (Ha! I’m teaching Agency this semester… another good fact pattern for me!). Anyway, he is right… there are two contracts.

            As a side note, I think the privacy concerns are crap. If you have footage of me GETTING MONEY in my HAND, that is MY FOOTAGE. I don’t need the camera or the software or anything proprietary, but I’m damn sure entitled to see that footage. Personally, I’d sue them both (atm owner and BofA) and let the ATM owner argue he shouldn’t be in the suit. Then I’d be sure to get the footage.

  17. There are machines in the casinos in Vegas that look and act like ATMs but don’t dispense cash rather give you a receipt that you take to the casino cashier and get your cash. They usually charge a 10% fee at the machine and another fee at the cashier. So, did the OP use one of these thinking it was a cash dispensing machine and then assumed that since all that was received was the receipt that the transactions were declined? After all, it was in a casino and most people in casinos are not totally sober. And these machines are not common in most parts of the country but provide a way to maximize fee income to the company operating it.

    I avoid these machines at all costs. Mainly because the fees are too high ($90 fees on $900 in withdrawals just at the machine is a prime example).

    1. Ive seen those, and also avoid them at all costs. I can not believe the fee rates on them. And you are right, they just give you that ticket that in some casinos you can put right in a slot machine. Could be he made several withdraws on one of these, never saw the cash, and assumed it was broken.

    2. Ugh… I’ve used those…once…the convenience store had just dropped cash in the safe and I had to wait until they had enough business transacted in cash to get the money I “withdrew”.

  18. He told he tried 5 or 6 times and in all transactions his card was denied.

    If I have my car denied two times, I’ll give up this machine, wait a little and look for another one, because my card will be blocked if I have 3 denies in the same machine. My card also doesn’t accept 3 withdraws of the same amount in a row. I cannot make two identical purchases (same amount) in a shop in a row.

    OK, I live in Brazil, using Brazilian cards and Brazilian banks, you can tell that these things may be annoying sometimes, but they increase you security and safety. It’s amazing for me that US cards doesn’t offer the same level of protection.

    1. Actually they do…sort of. Three erroneous pins in a row may cause some banks to eat/block the card.

    2. One thing I’d love to see the US adopt that is widely used overseas is the chip and pin. A few companies have started to offer them now, but pretty much only for overseas travel since the readers aren’t in place. The cards are supposed to help eliminate fraud since it doesn’t matter if the mag strip and pin are stolen, you still need the card.

  19. D.U.H. The OP should have immediately canceled the first transaction, called the customer service number on their card, and found another ATM location. Sadly, the ATM probably began to spit out bills as soon as the OP left the scene.

    Because this is definitely the bank’s or ATM’s computer error, the OP should be reimbursed the full amount (unless the photo/cam clearly shows the OP receiving the cash)

  20. It’s pretty obvious what should have happened here. Assuming the company that owns the ATM is honest, it would be easy for this to be resolved. Bank contacts Columbus, Columbus checks their ATM and sees that they have at least $990 more money in the ATM than they ought to. Columbus tells Bank. Bank resolves claim in customers favor. I can’t understand why there is a problem, unless the money actually did come out and the customer didn’t see it, and someone else took it.

  21. The fact is that the Bank of America is routinely rated as having some of the worst customer service in America. That it has taken this long to even get an unsatisfactory resolution for the customer is symptomatic of how BOA operates.

  22. Whenever I have been declined at an ATM the machine gives a receipt stating the transaction could not be completed. I keep these until I know nothing has posted. The OP never states weather she got these or not. They would go a long way in validating her version of the story

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