If you happened past the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Albemarle Street NW one Sunday last month, you may have noticed a man standing in front of the American Security Bank branch in a state of shock. He had the best of reasons.

The man had just inserted his access card into ASB's automatic teller machine, which is part of a system called MOST. The machine whirred and clicked a couple of times, pushed the man's card back toward him about an eighth of an inch, then swallowed it and refused to return it. No amount of pleading, button-pushing or pounding could make the machine change its mind.

The next morning, our hero called American Security's customer service office to ask what the heck this was all about. They told him that a) they didn't know and b) the card would "routinely" be cut in half.

Now, this gentleman wasn't overdrawn, and he wasn't breaking some MOST rule. He's just a guy who needed 20 bucks on a Sunday afternoon. Nor does he particularly appreciate being thought of as a shady character, on the part of an automatic teller machine or anyone else. So he asked me to see if I could patch together the truth, and patch up his bruised feelings.

According to Roger Connor, a public relations man for American Security, MOST machines are programmed to "capture" an access card under any of three conditions.

1) The card is "hot" (either it has been stolen or it has been used previously to try to extract money from an account that didn't contain any).

2) After finishing a transaction, the customer failed to withdraw the card from the slot within two minutes. Connor points out that this feature protects the cardholder who may have walked away and forgotten to reclaim his card. Once the machine "captures" the forgotten card, no one else can use it.

3) The system breaks.

Once the "capture" is made, "no value judgments are made," Connor says. "The rules of MOST are that that card must be cut in half and returned to the issuing bank." Why cut? To prevent theft from the mail.

What should a customer do if his card is "captured"? Just call the issuing bank during business hours, and arrange for a new one, Connor says.