Free Money? Is a Wayward ATM in Sag Harbor the Root of Our Problems?

It is possible that this story, if I publish it, could cost me $280. But I think it is an important story so I don’t care. If it costs me $280, too bad for me.

I was in Sag Harbor on Friday. After a nice lunch alone at the American Hotel, I thought to walk it off by heading up the sidewalk and withdrawing money at my bank, which is Capital One. I was pretty near out of cash. Typically, I withdraw $400 when I get low so I don’t have to do this very often.

The Sag Harbor branch of Capital One does not have an outside ATM machine. It is in an old brick building right on the corner of Main Street and Washington Street and the sidewalk is too narrow to give privacy. So you have to go inside. I hadn’t been in this particular branch before. But figured there would be one inside. [expand]

I found the ATM machine off in a dark corner of the big banking lobby, opposite where the tellers are. It was not a fancy bank ATM. It looked more like the sort of rinky-dink ATM you’d find in a 7-Eleven. In the back of it I saw a telephone wire clipped into a phone outlet on the wall. I briefly thought, under these circumstances, to do the transaction with the teller, but there was a line of people waiting to see the one teller. There was nobody at the ATM.

On the ATM was taped a handwritten sign reading BE SURE ALL THE MONEY DISPENSES BEFORE YOU TAKE IT. A strange thing. After reading this, I swiped my bankcard in the slot. The machine lit up. It asked me what language I wanted to communicate in and I said English, it asked me for my PIN number and I typed that in. Then I pressed withdrawal and after being prompted, pressed the numbers four-oh-oh.

Nothing happened for a few moments. Then the machine chugged and burped, flashed a message on the screen for just a moment and then began dispensing the cash into a metal tray. It seemed to me that in that flash was the word MALFUNCTION. But then, it was just there for a blink of an eye.

The money came out in 20s, as it usually does, pretty fast, Las Vegas dealer style, but after just a few of them, it stopped. Then it chugged and burped again and laid out for me another group, then another. It was coming out too fast for me to keep up with, but at a certain point, it stopped again. Then it chugged and burped still again. Then it did nothing. And then after that, it spit out a white piece of paper, a receipt, right on top of the 20s. Then it just sat there, quiet. It seemed to me this wasn’t quite enough 20s.

I waited awhile, wanting to be sure it was done as per the handwritten instructions. After a long time when nothing else happened, I figured it was done, and so took the 20s and the receipt.

Of course, I immediately counted the 20s. There were 14 of them. A total of $280.

At this point, I thought I ought to bring this to the attention of the teller. I had wanted $400. I got $280. I didn’t put the 20s in my wallet or anything, I just held them in my hand along with the receipt—this was now evidence—and walked over to the end of the line to show what I had gotten from the machine.

At this point, I looked at the receipt. It mentioned the last four digits of my account number and said it had dispensed $280. Below that was a sentence on the receipt I had never seen before. It read **TO BE VERIFIED DUE TO POSSIBLE ERROR**. So I got in line.

After awhile, a second teller appeared to help deal with the line. And after that, in just a few minutes, I was face to face with a young woman teller.

I told her what I had done, and I offered out the 20s and the receipt to her in the disarrayed condition I had walked them over to her. There was no hanky panky about this I wanted her to know.

She looked at all this briefly, then looked at the keyboard and computer screen she had in front of her.

“Let’s see what it posted,” she said. “What is your social security number? I’ll look up your account.” I recited the number.

There was silence for awhile. She was staring at the computer. “It hasn’t posted anything yet,” she said.

I nodded to across the room and the ATM in the corner. “I think there is something wrong with it,” I said.

She was not very tall, but now, behind the window, she stood up on tiptoe so she could see directly over to it. She glared at the ATM. BAD ATM.

“Let me count the money you got,” she said, looking at my pile And she did. She also looked at the receipt. “Hmmm,” she now said.

I held out my hand. And she pushed my stuff back to me. I, at this point, was thinking of completing the task I had come in for. I held out my bankcard, which, I might note, has four penguins on it. I could have gotten an American flag or a teddy bear on it. I chose the penguins.

“Can you give me the remaining $120 I didn’t get so I could have $400?”

“Sure,” she said. “Just fill out this withdrawal slip.” And she slid that blank form out. I filled it out. $120 and 00 cents. I pushed it back. And she typed in some numbers, a receipt printed out and she handed me two 50s and a 20.

“Thanks,” I said. “Did it post THAT?” I asked.

She looked again at the computer. “Yup,” she said. Then she stood up on tiptoe and glared at the evil ATM in the corner again for a while.

I would like to report that this ended our transaction and I walked away, but to be fair to her, so she shouldn’t get in trouble, I have to say that as I turned to leave she said, “hang onto that ATM receipt.”

It was, I thought, a suggestion that I might soon get a phone call from somebody in the night.

So I don’t know what will come of this. And I guess I am an honest guy and so if this article costs me $280 that I would not otherwise have had to pay, so be it. I did get the money.

It did occur to me as I left the building, however, that this particular ATM, in the dark corner of the main lobby of the Sag Harbor branch of the Capital One Bank, could be the cause of all this country’s financial problems.

It’s possible this ATM has been leaking money for years and I am merely the first to report it. All around the country, all around the world, people are saying we have to cut back, we don’t have the money, there’s just not enough money, we don’t have what we had before.

Maybe this is the culprit. It’s all leaking out in Sag Harbor.

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