Fact Check

Safe Deposit Box Restrictions

Is the government secretly putting restrictions on what customers can remove from safe deposit boxes?

Published Jan 24, 2006

Claim:   The Department of Homeland Security is secretly putting restrictions on what customers can remove from safe deposit boxes in case of "national disaster."

Status:   False.

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

A family member from Irvine, CA (who's a branch manager at Bank of America) told us two weeks ago that her bank held a "workshop" where the last two days were dedicated to discussing their bank's new security measures. During these last two days, the workshop included members from the Homeland Security Office who instructed them on how to field calls from customers and what they are to tell them in the event of a national disaster. She said they were told how only agents from Homeland Security (during such an event) would be in charge of opening safe deposit boxes and determining what items would be given to bank customers.

At this point they were told that no weapons, cash, gold, or silver will be allowed to leave the bank - only various paperwork will be given to its owners. After discussing the matter with them at length, she and the other employees were then told not to discuss the subject with anyone.

The family member has since given her notice to quit the bank.

I found the news alarming and decided to find out more myself. On a trip to my bank here in Houston, I remarked to a young bank employee (who's new there), "well I guess you've been told all that stuff by the manager and the Homeland Security about what to tell your customers" - and to my amazement, the young woman came right out and said yes she'd been through all that, then whispered to me across the counter, "but we're not supposed to talk about - I could lose my job."

Why haven't you heard more about this?

First of all, since maybe only banks' upper management is privy to the new "rules", the information doesn't trickle down so easily.

Also keep in mind that employees have been told NOT to say anything about this, that it's a matter of National Security (with an allusion toward arrest if they do). They face possibly losing their job too. Another
reason is that bank employees may not think it's important, or they believe they're a unique part of the effort towards curtailing "terrorism" and helping America's internal defenses.

It is also important to realize that not everyone's a writer, or Internet savvy - even if the employees moved beyond their banks' warnings & constraints, most people don't know how to get their experience published
on the Web in the public domain - it's a mystery they are not familiar with so you never hear their story.

How to get the information yourself:

Visit your bank, ask a few well-worded questions, being careful not to arouse suspicion - if that doesn't work, talk to friends and other family members - maybe they've heard something - or as a last resort, just point blank call the bank manager in private and demand to know what's all this business with the Homeland Security deciding what I can have from my safe deposit box - tell me now or I'll close my account today.

I'll bet if you put forth the effort you'll get the answers you want.

What should you do with this information?

I'm not trying to "scare" anyone - just providing some news I think is relevant to Americans. Each must find his way through this dark forest - you will do with this information what best suits you and your loved ones.

Be prepared.

Origins:   Whenever

people are feeling uneasy and unsure about the state of the world, we begin to see articles about some draconian measures the government is supposedly planning to enact when a looming crisis comes to pass — secret measures intended to keep the citizenry in their place and prevent them from revolting, but inadvertently revealed to the public through happenstance. In the months leading up to the Y2K "crisis" in late 1999, the hot item of the moment was an alleged plot by the government to use the chaos created by Y2K failures as an excuse for imposing martial law in the U.S. (plans fortuitously given away when alert citizens spotted "MARTIAL LAW" signs being carried in cargo trucks); in early 2006 the hot item is a supposed plan by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to prevent bank customers from removing "weapons, cash, gold, or silver" from their safe deposit boxes "in the event of a national disaster."

Such conspiracy theories are always difficult to definitively debunk — despite a lack of any affirmative evidence (other than rumor) — because believers will always maintain that confirmatory information is "secret," and thus "they" will not acknowledge or reveal it to anyone. Nonetheless, we invite concerned readers to consider the following:

  • The significant similiarities in structure between the current "safe deposit" plot and the earlier (false) "martial law" plot: in both cases secret plans to subdue the population were put forth by the government, were to be enacted in time of crisis, and were disclosed to the world at large (via e-mail) because private citizens were made parties to these nefarious top-secret schemes and inadvertently revealed them.
  • The implausibility of a brand-new (and therefore generally extra-cautious) bank employee's openly blurting out secret information to an unfamiliar customer, despite knowing that she could be fired and imprisoned for doing so.
  • Despite the given advice to "visit your bank, ask a few well-worded questions, being careful not to
    arouse suspicion," none of the employees at our local Bank of America branch (who know us personally) revealed anything to us when we inquired, and all of them seemed genuinely surprised (and amused) by the question.

In fact, we asked the vice-president of a Bank of America branch about this rumor, and not only did she say that she'd never heard of such a thing (and certainly hadn't received or given any employee instruction related to it), she told us that banks don't keep track of the contents of customers' safe deposit boxes (and don't want to know about their contents) in order to avoid having to assume liability for them.

Last updated:   24 January 2006


  Sources Sources:

    Simon, Stephanie.   "A Very Wary Christmas."

    Los Angeles Times.   9 December 2005.


David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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