As reported by ABC News, what started out as a program to hold unclaimed property, such as the contents of safety deposit boxes owned by people who have moved away without a forwarding address, has gone wildly out of control. The program is now using the flimsiest of excuses to drill safe deposit boxes and sell the contents.
In a case reminiscent of the Monty Python organ donor skit (or perhaps the movie Repo Men), a San Francisco woman’s jewelry appraised at over $80,000 was sold even though she lived a few blocks from her bank, had not moved, and was current on all of her box rental feeds. In another case, a man’s retirement savings consisting of $4 million of stock certificates were sold; and “A Sacramento family lost out on railroad land rights their ancestors had owned for generations”.
The program began life as a place to hold unclaimed property for up to 5 years while the state made attempts to locate the owner. Both the holding period and the efforts to locate the owner have diminished over time. ABC news indicates that there have been internal debates within the state on these changes, with an internal memo objecting to efforts to to find the owners on the grounds that “It could well result in additional claims of monies that would otherwise flow into the general fund.”
What surprises me about these seizures is the scale and how under-reported it is. This is the first article that I have seen on this topic, compared to dozens of pieces and several books on civil asset forfeiture. This phenomenon is probably at least as large as CAF — Jarret Wollstein cites a number in the low single-digit billions for asset forfeiture (which may be an annual number) compared to the $32 billion (which may be a multi-year aggregate) cited by ABC news. In comparison, looting of safe deposit boxes requires even less due process than asset forfeiture, which at least requires that the property be accused of a crime, and can be fought in court.
U.S DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY HAS TOLD BANKS – IN WRITING – IT MAY INSPECT SAFE DEPOSIT BOXES WITHOUT WARRANT AND SEIZE ANY GOLD, SILVER, GUNS OR OTHER VALUABLES IT FINDS INSIDE THOSE BOXES!
According to in-house memos now circulating, the DHS has issued orders to banks across America which announce to them that “under the Patriot Act” the DHS has the absolute right to seize, without any warrant whatsoever, any and all customer bank accounts, to make “periodic and unannounced” visits to any bank to open and inspect the contents of “selected safe deposit boxes.”
Further, the DHS “shall, at the discretion of the agent supervising the search, remove, photograph or seize as evidence” any of the following items “bar gold, gold coins, firearms of any kind unless manufactured prior to 1878, documents such as passports or foreign bank account records, pornography or any material that, in the opinion of the agent, shall be deemed of to be of a contraband nature.”
DHS memos also state that banks are informed that any bank employee, on any level, that releases “improper” “classified DHS Security information” to any member of the public, to include the customers whose boxes have been clandestinely opened and inspected and “any other party, to include members of the media” and further “that the posting of any such information on the internet will be grounds for the immediate termination of the said employee or employees and their prosecution under the Patriot Act.” Safety deposit box holders and depositors are not given advanced notice when failed banks shut their doors.
If people have their emergency money in a safe deposit box or an account in a bank that closes, they will not be allowed into the Read more…