¿Retiraste tu dinero?

2016 - 02 - 18 (235) crop

Did you withdraw your money?

I used to withdraw my money without a second thought and purchased lots of things with my Wells Fargo debit card, but am now less inclined to do so. I used to think that as long as I protected my PIN, I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone accessing my bank account.

Then, years ago, I heard about wait staff at restaurants using card skimmers to capture account numbers when they walked away with a card to process the bill. I pride myself on being wary and avoiding disastrous scenarios when it comes to financial matters, and I have always diligently monitored all activity on my accounts. So, instead of taking any chances, I stopped using my debit card at restaurants so thieves couldn’t eat the money sitting in my account, and I switched to using cash or a credit card when dining out. I know that credit card numbers can also be stolen, because I did have my number stolen while traveling in California about eight years ago. It was most likely at a hotel in Palo Alto where two employees checking me in late at night were uncharacteristically friendly. My focus was taken off the guy processing my card when the other guy required that I turn to my side to respond to his “friendly” questions. On my statement the next month, I spotted a couple of $90 purchases at a gas station in Palo Alto that I was never at, and American Express immediately reversed the charges for me when I notified them. Reporting the fraud was completely painless and I wasn’t held responsible.

I wasn’t sure how easily I could have my funds restored to me if my debit account was ever fraudulently accessed, and I really didn’t want to take a chance on not being restored the potentially thousands of dollars that could be stolen. So, for many years now, I’ve been much more protective of my debit card.  When I first heard about people attaching card skimmers at gas pumps around the Twin Cities, I had my family stop using debit cards at the pump. At that point, use of my debit card became limited mainly to grocery purchases and ATM withdrawals. Then the Target security breach happened. Target is where I buy most of my groceries.  My card number wasn’t among those accessed, but it caused me to start using my credit card instead – and to kick myself when I occasionally forgot and swiped my debit card at Target.

I don’t think I’ll forget to be careful with my debit card anymore. Last weekend, when I was out with my husband, he tried to withdraw cash from our checking account. It declined his transaction and a message appeared stating that his daily limit had been exceeded. He hadn’t used his card at all that day. There was a fraud alert from Wells Fargo waiting for us on our answering machine when we got home. We looked at our account online and someone had used my husband’s card at a Banco Regional ATM to withdraw $292 cash, and that same amount had been credited back. Then following that, it appeared two withdrawals of $93.72 were made. Because I saw Banco by each transaction I assumed they occurred in Mexico where we had vacationed a few months ago.

My husband called the fraud department number at Wells Fargo and we were told the transactions were made in Paraguay. The customer service person was incredibly friendly. I asked her how she thought my husband’s card was accessed and she immediately said it was probably because we used it in Mexico. She had a very sunny personality and said, “No worries,” that she would report the transactions as fraud, shut down my husband’s debit card, and would send him a new one. I happily thought, That was painless.

I thought positively about Wells Fargo too soon. Two days later, the charges were still on our checking account. I assumed that since the fraud occurred on a weekend it would take awhile for for the charges to be removed. When I checked again the next day, I saw that fees were added for making the fraudulent ATM transactions outside of the U.S. I called Wells Fargo to see why fees were being added to our account instead of having the fraudulent charges removed. After being passed on to people in departments that couldn’t help me, but who wanted to sell me additional Wells Fargo services, I was finally connected with a person in the right department. Unfortunately he had the wrong attitude. I was informed Wells Fargo had no intention of removing the charges even though we talked to the fraud department on the weekend and were told, “No worries.” He told me that our conversation with the person in the fraud department on the weekend was only “Phase One” of the process, and that I was now entering “Phase Two.” I might have imagined the accompanying bwah ha ha I heard, but based on the tone of his voice I could tell that Phase Two was not going to be painless. I felt I was suddenly being taken down to the dark basement of Wells Fargo’s fraud department.

The fraud department guy and I started our Phase together with a fight over semantics that felt like an Abbott and Costello routine – that wasn’t very funny and had no winner. He asked if there was another account member. I asked if he meant present with me or simply on the account. He responded by asking again if there’s another member. So I repeated my question and he said, yes. I needed to leave for an appointment, so to speed things along I pointed out that he could probably see in our records on his computer that my husband is on the account because it was his card number that was stolen. And that, no, he was not physically present with me while I was making the call. The guy sighed and then launched into his interrogation about my husband’s supposed negligence … He asked if I filed a police report. I said that, no, I didn’t. He demanded to know why I didn’t file a police report. I said it was because I suspected the crime was committed in Paraguay (by Colonel Mustard with a knife) and I don’t know how the legal system works down there or if there even is one – and that I don’t know how the card number was obtained but it was suggested by the fraud department that it occurred in another country. Then I said the first person we spoke to in Wells Fargo’s fraud department didn’t tell us to file a report. The guy said with irritation that he can’t release information to authorities if we don’t file a report. I simply said, “Okay,” because I still didn’t know who I would file such a report with and what authorities would care. Then he bombarded me with questions:  Where does my husband keep the card? Did he give the card to anyone? Did he make up his PIN or use the one the bank assigned? Did he give the PIN to anyone? Does he keep the PIN with his card?  . . .  Do YOU know how this happened? It seemed he was trying to get me to confess to something. I said the person we spoke to in the fraud department on Saturday said it probably happened when we used our card in Mexico. He flippantly said, “That happens all the time.” Then he started to ask more questions. By then I was running late for my appointment, so I cut him off and reminded him that: Wells Fargo contacted us last weekend, alerting us to potential fraudulent use of our card; we were told it occurred in Paraguay and that my husband’s account number was probably stolen when we were in Mexico using an ATM a few months ago; I was told we didn’t need to worry about the charges; I was simply calling today to see when I could expect the charges to be reversed . . .  and what more do I need to discuss? He said he would go check on something and be right back. I curled my hair while I was on hold. He got back on the phone and said that our fraud claim was being processed and that we could expect the charges to be reversed later that day or the next morning. I have no idea how much longer he would have interrogated me needlessly if I hadn’t cut him off. I think he was doing it simply because he was enjoying it. Later that day, when we checked our online account, there was a pending credit with an explanation attached by Wells Fargo: “Don’t remember this transaction.” Grrr! After wasting all my time with his questioning and being late for my appointment, that was the best the guy in Wells Fargo’s fraud department could come up with for a reason to reverse the charges!

The next day, credit for the two ATM transactions in Paraguay was posted to our checking account. And credit for the out of country ATM fees was posted – twice. My husband called Wells Fargo and was told that the lame reason entered by the fraud department guy for the reversed charges can’t be changed and the investigation is closed. So, it now appears that we made money on our fraud experience because of the duplicate credit for the out of country ATM fees. I plan to call Wells Fargo and try to have the duplicate credit re-reversed, but I want to wait until I have a block of free-time, and some emotional armor on, so that I’m prepared for any possible interrogation that might unfold – in case Wells Fargo wants to hold me responsible for their mistake.

The irony about my battle with Wells Fargo’s fraud department is that I do feel somewhat responsible for the fraud that occurred IF the number was stolen in Mexico. I am typically so diligent about protecting my accounts and was aware that getting a temporary travel card was a good idea when traveling out of the country. But, we had some personal crises  happen right before we were preparing to leave for Mexico so I got distracted, and failed to rise to my usual level of paranoia when attending to trip details. I forgot to get a travel debit card. When I realized it the day before the trip, I reasoned that we would be okay without it as long as we used “safe” looking ATMs; besides, the last time we were in Mexico a couple years ago, we were unable to get a reliable internet connection to transfer necessary funds over to the travel card so that we could withdraw cash.

So, I’d like to use my debit card theft experience to make a Public Service Announcement to my readers. Even though ATM skimming is more of a problem in Mexico, it also happens in the United States and debit card holders should now take extreme precautions at any ATM we use – anywhere in the world. I copied the following information from a current Trip Advisor Mexico Traveler article – Mexico: ATMs and Credit Cards:

Notice: There is growing evidence of rampant ATM “skimming” occurring throughout Mexico, where criminal organizations bribe ATM technicians to install devices to read debit cards and pin numbers from ATMs in order to ultimately steal money from unwitting users. The compromised ATMs are everywhere, including those inside resorts, in airports, and outside on the streets. Before you travel it is advised you open a second bank account (with a different card) just for travel purposes and put only what spare cash you’ll think you’ll need in there.

If you absolutely must use an ATM, the following can help reduce the risk of being skimmed:

  • While standing next to the ATM, use your Bluetooth phone and search for a signal called “Free2Move”. If it is found, the ATM is almost certainly compromised. Note: The criminal organizations that run this scam will eventually catch on that travelers have caught on to their tricks and change the Bluetooth signal name to something else, so this will only work for so long. If you are getting any strong Bluetooth signal standing near an ATM, it is advisable not to use that machine.
  • Check the keypad area for what might be a relatively thin/flimsy covering (could be reading your keypresses).
  • Check inside the slot where you insert your card: Does it look like there might be an extra thin credit-card insert in there that isn’t flush with ATM’s surface.
  • Use ATMs located inside banks if possible; they are less likely to be compromised


Wells Fargo announced a couple weeks ago that for extra security they are starting to use technology that uses eyeprints to access accounts. A smartphone camera creates a blueprint of a person’s eyes that is matched to the account. At first I thought that was a good idea, but after my experience this past week, I now realize how desperate strangers are for my money. If I used that technology, I would worry about someone gouging my eyeballs out so they could access my account numbers – and that could hurt almost as much as talking to Wells Fargo’s fraud department. I actually believe now that there are plenty of people in the world who are evil enough to scoop my eyes out for a few hundred dollars.

I’ve always wanted to believe that people are inherently good. I used to be someone who felt inclined to share with other people. I believed that someone had to be so desperate to steal that they must really need the money more than me. But if someone can afford to buy a card skimmer and Bluetooth devices to stick in an ATM, they can afford to buy themselves food and other necessities. I wish Wells Fargo’s fraud department could pull its act together and re-open an investigation of my case so that my thieves could be caught. It would be nice if karma also caught up with my thieves so they, at the very least, could experience the extreme discomfort I did while being interrogated by their own Banco Regional’s fraud department.

I wish I didn’t have to be so obsessed with my bank account security and that thieves would respect that es mi dinero y no el suyo. It’s my money and not theirs.


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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved.
No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Julie Ryan.




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