Putting valuables in a safe deposit box could be a costly mistake

safe deposit boxLast weekend, robbers dug through the basement wall of a bank in Paris and entered the vault. While they were there, they cracked open almost 200 safe deposit boxes and stole their contents. A similar robbery took place in January at a bank outside of the city. This time, the thieves looted about 100 safety deposit boxes.

Police aren't saying how much these crooks netted, but French media have compared the incidents to a robbery 35 years ago at the Nice branch of Société Générale, one of Europe's most prominent financial institutions. These thieves cleaned out 400 safe deposit boxes, making off with an estimated $32 million in cash, securities and other valuables.

So knowing that this kind of crime can happen in the real world – not just in a Pink Panther movie -- how trusting should you be when you load up a safe deposit box at your own bank?

Be cautious, advises this Bankrate.com piece on what to store in a safe deposit box and what to put elsewhere. Here are some guidelines, also from Bankrate.com and some even more cautious warnings from – of all sources – the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.:

  • Stash the cash someplace else. Cash in a safe deposit box isn't insured by the FDIC. If the money disappears, it's just gone.
  • Don't put the only copy of valuable paperwork in a bank box. A bomb in a safe-deposit box would totally obliterate it.
  • Insure jewelry, coins and other valuables through a private insurer. The FDIC doesn't cover anything in a safety deposit box
  • Wrap it in plastic. Many banks put their safe-deposit boxes in the basement where they are very vulnerable to floods. The FDIC recommends putting anything vulnerable to dampness in a tightly sealed plastic container.
  • Don't trust bank employees. ''Don't allow a bank employee to keep your key and handle transactions for you if you're not there -- something elderly customers have done and regretted," says Carol Mesheske, chief of a section in the FDIC's Division of Supervision that monitors fraudulent activities at banks.
  • Hide the evidence. ''Before leaving the privacy booth, make sure all valuables are safely back inside the box," recommends Gene Seitz, also of the FDIC's anti-fraud group. ''And make sure there's nothing left behind that may indicate the contents of your box, such as a currency strap, a specially-marked envelope or an empty jewelry box."
So why do you want safe-deposit box anyway? It sounds like it might be just as safe to put your valuables under the mattress.
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