Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

Victims of two heists at FNB branches have hired investigators to uncover the truth behind the theft of hundreds of safety deposit boxes, says their spokeswoman, Kelly Fraser.

Thieves stole 360 safety deposit boxes on December 18 from FNB’s Randburg branch, according to information passed from a branch employee to the owner of one of the boxes.

A second robbery took place on New Year’s Eve at the bank’s Parktown branch, where it is believed 30 boxes were stolen.

About 170 people, including victims and representatives of victims, have contacted Fraser via WhatsApp and e-mail.

Fraser’s father lost close to R1m worth of Krugerrands in the Randburg theft, prompting her to set up a support group. Those known to Fraser had lost anywhere between R100,000 and R4m in the heists, she said.

FNB charges a once-off purchase price of R500 for a deposit box and monthly service fees of R137 (for a small box) and R220 (for a large box). Sealed envelopes, which were also stolen, rent for R30 a month.

Victims would consider seeking compensation for their losses through legal action against the bank, Fraser said.

The agreements governing the safekeeping of deposit boxes absolve FNB of any legal responsibility for the loss of the contents, but it could be liable if gross negligence was proved.

"The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) provides that liability may not be excluded for gross negligence, regardless of the terms of a contract," said Tjakie Naude, professor of private law at the University of Cape Town.

As far as ordinary negligence was concerned, the CPA provided for the right to fair contract terms more generally, she said.

If gross negligence on the part of FNB was proved, the onus would be on the consumer to persuade the courts of the contents of the box and the value of those contents, since neither of these facts were necessarily disclosed to the bank in terms of the agreement, Naude said.

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