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  1. #1
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    Scary Bank Experience
    I just wasted three hours trying to get someone at Washington Mutual (bank) to explain how their computer system would allow "facially invalid transactions" to post into their system. In the end, I think I've identified a huge security issue which will lead me to change banks (although I really have no reason to believe it is unique to my bank).

    What happened is that last Saturday, I went to my bank and made a deposit, and then tried to withdraw $20 cash. The ATM machine paused, then informed me that it could not dispense cash. I took my receipt (which listed my deposit but not the withdrawal attempt), and informed the people in line behind me that the ATM was out of cash.

    Today, I discovered four transactions posted to my account on Saturday: the deposit, a $20 debit, a $20 credit, and another $20 debit. In effect, the ATM said "The customer requested $20 (debit), and I tried to give him the money but I was unable to dispense cash (credit), and then I dispensed $20 (debit)."

    It's that last "transaction" that disturbs me: the bank posted a transaction which (by itself) says, "I cannot dispense cash, AND I dispensed cash." This is a facially invalid transaction -- yet the bank processed it.

    The bank insists that although they can see exactly what happened, I must submit a claim, wait for paperwork, sign the paperwork, and mail it in, and only then will they credit the money.

    This isn't about $20, of course. But I wonder -- if the ATM machine submitted a transaction saying that it dispensed $1,000 to me, would that also be posted, even though my bank imposes a lower limit on daily cash withdrawals? Could a bank employee rig the machine to post fake debits to cover thefts of cash? Why should I trust the system at all?

    I was ready to cut up the ATM card and go elsewhere to open a new account, but then I realized that I have no reason to believe that this problem is unique to Washington Mutual. It's a little bit scary.

    What's scarier is the thought that the bank KNOWS about this problem, but won't take any action to examine other customers' accounts to see if they deserve credits also. The bank may actually profit from the transaction errors. That's a little more scary.

  2. #2
    Fear and Arrogance jrrl's Avatar
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    Any chance that was a Diebold ATM? Just curious.

    -John.
    There's a reason army's wear uniforms even though it makes them easier to spot. Sometimes that's what you want. Uniforms suggest organization, power, and numbers. These, in turn, inspire fear. And, as any good operative knows, there is no more effective weapon than fear.

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  3. #3
    ABW Ambassador VampireSkunk's Avatar
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    This isn't a helpful post - but - you do realize the banks are the biggest crooks in the world?

  4. #4
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    jrrl asked: > "Any chance that was a Diebold ATM? Just curious." <

    I don't know, but I also don't think it matters. The issue isn't what the ATM does, but how the bank's computer system processes transactions coming from the ATM. If the ATM sent along a transaction showing that it dispensed $10,000 cash to me, I don't think my bank's computer system should just accept that transaction.

  5. #5
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    It does matter which atm it is. They all have different software. The software is actually in the machine. So its not the bank but the atm thats the problem. Its possible that if you go to a different brand atm from the same bank you would get a different result.

  6. #6
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    Esome -- you are misunderstanding the issue. Yes, there are different ATMs with different software. Yes, each ATM is actually a computer. But the ATM doesn't make the final determination of the validity of a transaction. Instead, the ATM queries the bank's central computer (which may in turn query other banks' computers for non-customer ATM or credit card transactions), and then processes transactions according to the directions from the central computer. For example, if I insert a Bank of America ATM card into the Washington Mutual ATM, it will not permit me to make a deposit, but it will allow me to query my BA balance and make cash withdrawals (if my balance allows, and for a fee).

    The bank's central computer system should never accept and post a facially invalid transaction from an ATM (or any other source). Period.

  7. #7
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    I did understand what you meant.
    My point is the problem originates in the atm, with a proper atm the transactions would not have been generated. So does the bank have to check for transactions that cant be generated if the atm would have been coded and tested properly? Yes but not in realtime. In the end they do check every transaction. What is different from bank to bank is what do they do when they discover anomalies.

    I am totally confused what happened with that atm. I used to work on them as a software developer. Software in atm's is extremely simple, sequential code. (Siemens, ncr).

  8. #8
    ABW Ambassador Snib's Avatar
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    Had this happen to me once while taking money out of a Taiwan ATM from my American bank account. The ATM errored out and wouldn't give me my money, so I figured I'd try again another day. Turns out the $400 I'd requested vanished into thin air. It was withdrawn from my US account and the bank in Taiwan never saw it. Fortunately after talking to both banks I was able to get my money back, but that sure was scary. Since then I've had no problem doing this.

    - Scott
    Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions.

  9. #9
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    Again, this is weird.

    A transaction in an ATM should not have been written unless the sensor tells the machine the money has been taken from the dispenser. International or not doesnt matter.

  10. #10
    MasterMike HardwareGeek's Avatar
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    ATM error, just like human error there are times when an ATM hiccups.

    Can't blame the bank for wanting to make sure you go through all the paper work to get a 20 dollar credit. Bet you 20 bucks they will review the video tape too.

    "The bank's central computer system should never accept and post a facially invalid transaction from an ATM (or any other source). Period."

    For all you know the bank gave you the 20 bucks but you walked away to complain about the ATM being out of Cash.

    Did you cancel out your transaction?

    I personally don't trust machines that ask me to cancel out if I fail to do something.

  11. #11
    Resident Genius and Staunch Capitalist Leader's Avatar
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    I'm not surprised at ALL that they couldn't "explain how." It'd take a competent programmer familiar with the ATM system to do that, and even they couldn't do it until the program was debugged and the error found. The great majority of tellers or customer service people would have no clue what's going wrong; they'd just know that they've had others with the same complaint. Most employees have no authority to actually do anything about it, either.

    Compound all of this with the fact that in many companies, there is a LOT of (informal, but VERY REAL) pressure on the front-liners to never tell the upper management about problems, and there's the recipe for problems never even being known about by those who actually have real authority, much less getting fixed. The only real chance to bypass this screen that management sets up is to write (snail mail) them directly--addressing the envelope, for example, "Attention: CEO"--and hope your letter is routed to their personal office rather than through "customer service." Often the executive staff is not well-indoctrinated to be silent about such issues, and will make the career mistake of actually mentioning it.

    I doubt that this problem affects all banks. It doesn't affect mine, or at least, I haven't gotten any glitches when their machine doesn't have enough money in it. It's bad programming on the part of whoever did WaMu's ATMs. But that same error may indeed affect all banks who get their ATMs from the same manufacturer as WaMu (or who had the same company do the software).

    However, this
    The bank insists that although they can see exactly what happened, I must submit a claim, wait for paperwork, sign the paperwork, and mail it in, and only then will they credit the money.
    This sounds like payback in exchange for putting up with your 3-hour harangue after they surely told you repeatedly that they can't fix the underlying error. Bureaucracies have shedloads of BS "procedures" in their employee handbooks, that employees only selectively follow. It's obviously something that is officially procedure, or else they wouldn't have forms, etc. for it. But chances are it's something that's only actually done for those "super special" kind of customers.

    However, there is a slight possibility that WaMu (or that branch of it) is that obstinate on an equal-opportunity basis.

  12. #12
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    Mark - I don't think you saw Jrrl's joke - Diebold also makes the Automatic Vote Changing Machines

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