Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nobody Cares About a Gringo Losing Money

I am spending a lot of cash right now. I am paying all of our workers at our house construction and at the Institute construction, buying materials from local hardware stores, buying gas- all in cash. There are very few places here that take credit cards, and the ones that do charge high fees to use their machines. Also, the ATMs only let me take out $270 per card per day. I don't go to town every day, so the days I do I have to use 3 different cards to keep up with our cash needs.

I never go more than a week without checking our bank account online. I know that fraud is a big deal here, but with the travel of this past week it did take me exactly one week between logging in. Today I was browsing through our expenses of the last week and saw an ATM debit for $474. That caught my attention because there are no ATMs in Guatemala that will let you take out that much in one day. I immediately called the bank and while on the phone went back over the past week. There were multiple transactions every day at ATM names I didn't recognize.

The bank informed me that those were just my ATM transactions in ENGLAND! I've never been, but the bank was giving me the runaround because as an ATM transaction, somebody had to have my PIN. My card and my PIN. You can do a quick Google search to see all of the articles about ATM card cloning in Guatemala. There were a total of 20 withdrawals between $32.04 and $448.36 each for a total that equals our upcoming medical expenses.

There have been two different reports of how card information is stolen here. One is that a cloner machine is attached to where you swipe your card and made to look like it belongs. Every ATM (even from the same companies) looks like a different model. Some are new and shiny and some are old with broken buttons. It's impossible for a regular person to know what is supposed to be on the machine and what is out of place. When you swipe your card, the attachment records your card information. Nearby would also be placed a camera to record your finger movements to get your pin number. The ATMs here are in private rooms behind a closed door, so it is impossible for somebody to just be watching you.

Somebody else wrote an article about hackers or even bank employees going into the bank systems and getting that information directly from there. I'm not sure which was used in this case.

I am not sure why, but this card wouldn't work at my normal, trusted ATM. The other two worked great, but for this one for the past month I have had to go around the corner to a new ATM (from a different company) that had just opened. Because this card was cloned and the other two weren't, I know exactly which machine has the problem. After calling my US bank and finding out all of the information I needed to fax them (with no assurance that I will get my money back yet), I called the Guatemalan Police to report it. I told the dispatcher, "My card was cloned at an ATM in Petén" to which she replied, "Ok, we'll send somebody to check it out." Me- "Uh...you don't know which ATM it was at." Dispatcher- "Oh yeah, which ATM? ok we'll send somebody." Yeah Right.

So then I called INGUAT/ASISTUR- the Guatemalan agency that is supposed to help tourists and prevent crime against them. I could not get the guy to understand. He wanted me to ask the bank manager for a key so they could retrieve my card from the ATM. After finally understanding he told me to go to the nearest police station and file a report. I've done that before with other situations. It is a futile activity where you get the only copy of the report to take home with you without any police officer other than the clerk at the desk ever hearing about your problem.

Then I called the Embassy. They took my name, location of the ATM and told me they would pass the information along to their "security people" so they could "figure something out." Whatever that means.

I finally called a friend of mine who called the chief of police of Santa Elena, Petén who sent people over to shut down the ATM until the bank can fix it.

Oh well. I would like to fly to London and punch somebody in the face, but now I can't afford it... We'll update once we hear back from the bank about what we do next.

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