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

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By Christopher Elliott

Tim Crawford tries to withdraw cash from an ATM in Las Vegas. He gets nothing, but his bank deducts $990 anyway. Is there a way to reverse 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. Unfortunately, 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.

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. It credited you for the $990, and then sided with the company operating the ATM. But it offered no details about why it changed its mind.

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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.

Unraveling the ATM dispute

When an ATM transaction is questioned, the company operating the automatic teller reviews its records. It 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. 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. (Here’s how to win a credit card dispute.)

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. (Related: The newest tourist scams.)

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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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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