Friday, February 26, 2010

You May Think I Am Paranoid

But one of my biggest fears is losing access to my money while I am traveling. Today that nightmare (at least partially) hit! I tried to get pesos from an ATM and my card was "Declined"! I thought I may have input the wrong PIN or perhaps the exchange rate had changed and I was asking for an amount over my daily limit. I tried again, reducing the requested amount and being very careful with the PIN. Declined again! I went to an Internet cafe, called my Credit Union on Skype and discovered my card was canceled for a "suspected fraudulent swipe on February 24". No discussion, it was canceled. "No problem", she said, "just drop into any branch and we will give you a new card and PIN". I told her to send me a return ticket from Cancun and I would drop in tomorrow. "Oh, I don't know what to say, the card is canceled and I can't change that".

The problem is, the card has not been used or out of my pocket for over two weeks and the only place I use my debit card is in bank branded ATM's. It is not possible that it was swiped on the 24th. Her answer was that someone may have cloned the card and tried using it on that day. I was lucky their computers picked up on it, she said. Shit! Now what?

I got Norma to have her get some cash and two of her cards do not work either. One because of "suspected fraudulent use" and the other because she was using the wrong PIN number. The PIN number is a mystery because she has had the same card and PIN for years and it has always worked. Until today. The "suspected fraudulent use" card they will honor if she calls them every time she uses it. When they get the call they will take the block off for a short period of time. This is not workable in Mexico because there is never access to a phone where you are using the card. Big Problems. She tried a credit card that allows cash withdrawals (charging interest from the instant you get it) and it worked. Mixed blessings.

I bought groceries and handed her my Visa. It worked but I do not have a PIN for withdrawing cash as I refused to pay interest on it. It hindsight, that was a mistake. I have an ATM card from an unsed account at ING bank and can transfer money into it so I am not in big trouble, just inconvenienced. And even more paranoid.

When you leave the country make sure you have several ways to get cash! Credit cards are of limited value as few places accept them. Pesos rule in Mexico. Loose access to them and you are in real trouble!


  1. Cloning of ATM cards here in Guadalajara area is a HUGE problem. Evidently, there is a small reader that people can place onto the ATM right in front of the regular card insertion slot. That reader is later picked up by the ATM cloner and used to create a copy of the ATM card. Scary business. Like you said, always be sure to use bank branded ATM's, but also watch what the insertion slot looks like. I am going to guess that if you grab hold of the insertion slot and try to shake it, the fake reader would come loose. I am glad you have options for your cash. Like you, I decline to use a credit card for cash because of the interest, and I even decline to use the credit card for purchases here in Mexico because of the outrageous exchange rate fees the credit card charges. (My credit union charges no fees for ATM withdrawals, even here in Mexico.)

  2. I carry three ATM cards from two banks so it won't happen to me. I never had it declined but I contated by bank before the trip and said I'll be using in Mexico.
    Hope you got a way to get some money.
    Have Fun.
    We are now in SMA and on the way to toward the border tomorrow.
    Maybe next year we will cross paths.

  3. Many years ago (in the 80's) when we began Fulltiming we switched PIN#'s between our cards and hence our cards were frozen. We were in Mx at the time (Our first 7 winters were in MX) We had a American Exp Cd at the time and each month we went to Guadaljara to the Am Exp Office to take out our 21 day allotment. I am sure the amounts have changed since then but it worked. On our way home that spring we stopped at several banks and found with two ID's and 2 Cr Cds for reference we found most bank managers would authorize cashing a cheque for us. Not the best system but it worked. Take care and enjoy Mexico - we did. P&J

  4. The bottom line is the banks think they are passing out their money to the card holders.

    We have a number of similar stories - your advice is good - have several options to obtain pesos - cash, cards and a connection in your own country. Never use the ATM when the bank is closed - machines eat cards and you will not have access to help on that at a closed bank - don't even think about the ATM'a in the supermarket. Always notify your bank in advance when heading to Mexico (or where ever).