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Seconds count during an ATM withdrawal, man warns after losing over $200

You might not have as much time to grab your cash at the ATM as you think. A south St. Louis man is warning others after losing hundreds of dollars.

ST. LOUIS — When you withdraw cash out of an ATM, you may not have as much time to take it as you think. That’s the warning from a south St. Louis man, who asked for our I-Team’s help after he said an ATM took back the money he withdrew and he can’t get it refunded.

“For crying out loud, we're not in Creve Coeur, we're not in Ladue here... We live on paycheck to paycheck around here for the most part," said Jim Heinkel.

Outside a convenience store in south St. Louis, Heinkel said he’s been swindled by what’s inside. 

“It's just one more example of the rich taking advantage of the poor," Heinkel said.

It started with an ATM he used a few months ago as a favor for his neighbor, Joe.

"(Joe) is handicapped, is homebound," Heinkel said, "and he does his banking through an ATM, and he wanted cash out," said Heinkel. 

Jim Heinkel’s neighbor told us he uses a government-issued debit card called Direct Express. Heinkel tried withdrawing $800 for him for his monthly rent in early June, and that’s when Heinkel ended up losing $200 after not grabbing it quickly enough.

Heinkel had to withdraw $800 but could only take out $200 at a time. He was not quick enough.

“I'm turning the money around and counting it," he said. “The other $200 were sitting in the slot ... And all of a sudden, the money was gone.”

He said the money went back into the machine without warning, but his receipts showed he got the money. Without a paper trail, he said he has no proof. It’s his word against the ATM company. 

A few days later, the missing $200 was deposited back into Joe's account. But days after that, he said the money was gone. A representative at Direct Express told him it was the responsibility of the ATM company to refund the money, and he is still missing $200. Our I-Team contacted Direct Express for a statement, and has not heard back.

With I-Team cameras rolling, Heinkel tried using the ATM again with a $20 bill. Same story.

As part of our investigation, Heinkel withdrew $20 from the same ATM where he lost $200. He intentionally waited to see how long it would take before the $20 went back into the machine. It took 30 seconds. He uses Commerce Bank. He said he was on hold for 90 minutes with the bank to get his money back, without getting any answers. 

We contacted Commerce Bank directly. Spokesperson Tiffany Charles told us in an email: “We are so sorry for the customer’s inconvenience. ATMs are designed to retract the bills after a certain amount of time for security reasons. It is unclear how much time was allotted in this instance because the customer used a non-Commerce Bank ATM… We have received his request and will issue a refund today. Customers can always contact us over the phone or stop by a branch for assistance.”

“They should at least notify you that you didn't get your money. But instead, it just said, 'yes, you got the money and everything's fine,' which spells thievery to me," Heinkel said. 

Heinkel hoped his experiences serve as a warning to others who use ATMs.

"Grab your money. Don't worry about counting it, count it after you get your money," Heinkel said.

What to do if this happens to you

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has this advice: If you’re missing money from your ATM, contact your bank or credit union right away. But Heinkel said that's been difficult. He and his neighbor have been told it’s the ATM company’s responsibility to refund the money.

Our I-Team reached out to the owner of the ATM for answers. A spokesperson with NCR Corporation, which oversees Allpoint ATMs nationwide, declined to comment.

"It's discouraging on all levels," Heinkel said. 

The I-Team also contacted the ATM Industry Association. A spokesperson said that when cash is dispensed and then goes back inside the machine, it’s for security.

“There is a reason that the cash retracts after 30 seconds," spokesperson David Tente wrote in an email. "Believe it or not, people make a withdrawal, take their card and then walk away without the cash. The 30-second time limit is common. If the cash is left unintentionally, it gets retracted so someone else can’t walk by and grab it – and the cardholder would be out of luck with no recourse."

Tente said it’s likely the responsibility of the ATM operator to give back the cash or issue a credit back to the customer. 

Resources from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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