Woman loses heirlooms in safe deposit box

NOVATO, Calif.

You might think a bank is the most secure place to lock up your valuables. But like your home, a bank is subject to fire, flood, and fraud. This woman wanted me to tell you her story in the hope you won't lose precious family heirlooms like she did.

Nara of Novato promised her grandfather never to sell a particular diamond necklace, since it had belonged to her great grandmother.

"So I saved the necklace. I hardly ever wore it. I was so afraid I would lose it," Nara said.

After a burglary at her house, she decided not to take any chances. She put the necklace in a safe deposit box at Wells Fargo Bank, along with other jewels.

"Grandmother's ring, she had like a 20 carat, huge opal with all these diamonds around it. The last gift before she passed," Nara said.

She hadn't gone to the box in three years, until her husband gave her a diamond bracelet for Christmas. It matched a wedding ring she had put in the box. So she went to get the ring and instead, found the unthinkable.

"She hands me my box, and then you're supposed to go to the private room. So I go to the private room and I open it up, and my stuff's not there and somebody else's stuff is," said Nara.

Nara couldn't believe it. Her box contained someone else's gold coins, silver coins, and military discharge papers. Her jewelry was gone.

"They were trying to tell me that this other gentleman, he was rented this box in late 2011. Why they would rent the same box, I don't know," said Nara.

She showed us the two keys that are supposed to be the only ones issued for that box. She had paid the annual $35 fee every year and the bank had no record of removing her items from its vault.

"There is no tracking of where my items went. They just disappeared," Nara said.

She called the Novato police who took a report. Then she contacted 7 On Your Side. We asked Wells Fargo why someone else had access to her account. The bank said it is still investigating.

An official told 7 On Your Side: "Wells Fargo deeply regrets the apparent loss suffered by our customers and we have apologized to them. We take responsibility for what has happened and have asked the customers to complete an affidavit of missing contents as a regular step in our investigation. We intend to cooperate with them to resolve this matter to the satisfaction of all parties."

Nara just wants me to warn you about what happened.

"I just feel like maybe this could shine a light and let people know they should check their stuff," Nara said.

Here's a few tips:

  • Safe deposit boxes are usually safe. Losses can happen when banks move, or in case of flood, fire or theft.
  • Consider buying insurance on items you put in your box.
  • Remember that cash you put in a safe deposit box is not federally insured. It's better to put cash in a federally insured bank account.

"These were the last of my family heirlooms. I have to know I've done everything I possibly can to try and get those back," Nara said.

Novato police said they are treating this as a civil dispute, not as a criminal case. I've posted a link with more information on how to protect your safe deposit box.

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