What to Do if the ATM Makes a Mistake

Quick Answer

If the ATM makes a mistake and miscalculates your deposit or withdrawal, you should document the event as much as possible, quickly contact the bank or ATM operator and possibly file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau if you have trouble getting your funds back.

An elderly man wearing a brown jacket puts in his credit card in the ATM.

ATMs are a convenient way to deposit and withdraw cash even if the bank is closed. But if something goes wrong and there's not a person nearby to help with the problem, the remedy can get complicated.

Here are potential ATM errors and what to do if the ATM makes a mistake. Taking these steps can help you avoid losing your money or facing legal ramifications.

Potential ATM Errors

While ATM errors don't happen every day, when they do occur, the problems they create can be a headache if you have to wait for your checking account to be updated with the correct balances. These are some issues that may occur:

  • Deposit counted incorrectly: This occurs when, say, you deposit $400 in cash but the ATM only registers $300.
  • Check read wrong: The ATM's optical character recognition may not read your check correctly, and you may mistakenly authorize the wrong amount for a deposit.
  • Experienced a power outage: If a power outage or other technical glitch occurs in the middle of your transaction, your money might either not register in your account or disappear from your balance.
  • Dispensed too much: It might feel like your lucky day if the ATM dispenses an extra $20 by accident, but this mistake could get you into legal trouble once the bank realizes the mistake if you do nothing.

What to Do After an ATM Error

When an error occurs, make sure to take the following steps to protect yourself from both financial loss and legal troubles:

  1. Document as much as possible. Use your phone to snap a photo of the screen and keep any deposit slips (if you haven't already driven away). Quickly screenshot your bank app if it shows different information. Take careful note of the ATM you used, including the address and, if there are multiple ATMs in the same space, which ATM you used.
  2. Contact the bank or ATM operator. Even if it's outside of business hours, leave a voicemail or send an email so the bank knows you tried to deal with the issue as quickly as possible.
  3. Wait for the bank to investigate: Under the Electronic Funds Transfer Act, the bank must investigate an ATM error within 10 days. This investigative period may be extended up to 45 days if the bank is willing to put the amount you say is correct in your account during that time as a provisional credit. Once the investigation is complete, they must notify you of their findings in writing.
  4. File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). As a last resort to recover money lost during an ATM transaction, filing a complaint with the CFPB can get some official help on your side from the organization meant to defend consumer financial interests. This is a serious step to take only after the bank fails to respond within the allotted investigation time frame or you are dissatisfied with the results of their investigation.

6 Ways to Avoid ATM Mishaps

You can't always anticipate mishaps with ATM technology, but there are a few ways you can help protect your account when using an ATM.

  1. Count your money in front of the camera. If you're in a safe location, count your money in front of the ATM camera so the recording can be pulled should a deposit error occur.
  2. Protect your PIN. It is essential to keep your personal identification number (PIN) private, as acquiring this is the easiest way for thieves to access your bank account at an ATM with your debit card.
  3. Get a receipt. While it may feel like ATM receipts are just more purse clutter or a waste of paper, you should always get a receipt when making a transaction, especially if it is a large one. This may be the documentation you need in case of an error.
  4. Check for skimmers. Card skimmers are fraudulent devices that can be placed over the card reader at public machines such as an ATM or gas pump. These collect your card information so that fraudsters can use your account. Check for skimmers by wiggling the card reader, but be aware that skimmers' design has become sophisticated and can be hard to detect.
  5. Watch your statement for fee reimbursement. If your bank is supposed to reimburse you for ATM fees, make sure to verify each month that they have been repaid by checking your bank statement.
  6. Request printed images of any deposited checks. Some ATMs will add a scanned image of your deposited check to your receipt, which can provide helpful proof after an ATM issue.

Is Mobile Deposit Safer Than Using an ATM?

If your bank offers mobile deposit through a smartphone app, opting for that may help you avoid some of the ATM mishaps that could put your financial health in jeopardy. Here's what you need to know about mobile deposit apps:

  • Mobile deposit is physically safer than going to an ATM. It is always advisable when you're at a physical ATM to be aware of your surroundings, avoid letting anyone stand close to you while you make your transaction and keep your PIN covered when you enter it. But when using mobile deposit, none of this is a concern.
  • Mobile deposit is limited to only checks, not cash. Unfortunately, mobile deposit does limit users to only depositing checks, so it's not a perfect substitute for skipping the ATM.
  • Mobile deposit may give you more control on entering and verifying the amounts or restarting a transaction. With in-app controls and text or email confirmations, you may have more control and confirmation of transactions in case something goes wrong during the process.

ATMs can be a major convenience, but take steps to make sure you protect your own financial interests when you use them. Follow the steps above to document your transactions and protect your account information so that ATMs can make your life easier—not harder.