Las Vegas ATM stole $990 — can you help recover it?

Pabkov/Shutterstock
Pabkov/Shutterstock
Question: I wanted to ask you about an ATM dispute that occurred last August. I tried to obtain funds from a single ATM in Las Vegas multiple times and my card was continuously declined. I received no cash. The following day, I checked my online banking and it showed that these transactions were pending on my checking account.

I then contacted Bank of America customer service and the representative assured me that if I did not receive any funds then my account would reflect this the following Tuesday.
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Let’s hear it for this gas price bait and switch!

Cheaper isn’t always better.

On a recent trip to Bend, Ore., I discovered that cheaper can actually mean more expensive.

The scam was perpetrated by a service station selling unleaded gas that’s 10 cents lower than the other stations along the road. With gas prices pushing $4 a gallon, a 10-cent saving is nothing to sneeze at.
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Ridiculous or not? The ATM sucked my money back

When Robert Hillestad tried to withdraw £200 from an automatic teller machine in London last April, he got a bait-and-switch. Almost literally.

“While waiting for the machine to reel off my receipt, the bills that had been dispensed were pulled back into the machine,” he says.

Hillestad was in the British capital for a quick vacation and to see the royal wedding, but the prospect of losing about $320 cast a long shadow across the experience. “Using an internet cafe nearby, I verified that the amount had, in fact, been debited from my account,” he says.

And so began a long journey to retrieve his money.
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Warning: Banks putting undisclosed “holds” on ATM withdrawals

Automatic teller machine withdrawals are subject to all kinds of fees, to the point where Washington is getting involved. But new laws won’t protect you from ATM mischief when you’re overseas.

Longtime reader Steve Loucks, who works for the travel agency consortium Travel Leaders, just returned from London, where he found a shocker on his bill:

I used my ATM card twice, once through a Lloyds Bank and then through NatWest. Both times, I discovered today, each financial institution not only took out the amount I requested but they also placed a hold on my account for those same amounts (the latter hold doesn’t expire until tomorrow).
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Roman thieves impersonating cops confiscate student’s debit card and steal €250 — now what?

Never give your PIN number to anyone. Ever.

Derek Wilairat learned this rule the hard way on a recent trip to Rome. I’m sharing his heartbreaking story as a warning to readers. But I think you’ll find the resolution just as interesting.

On June 14th, 2008, on a deserted street in Rome, two men approached me claiming to be undercover police officers. They demanded my wallet to “check my identification” and they demanded the PIN for my debit card so that they could “check my identity” with my bank.

Despite my obvious suspicions, my instinct was to play along. They were threatening men — mafia-types — and the fact that they claimed to be police officers, and that I was in a foreign country, made it that much harder to resist their demands. I surrendered my PIN only because I felt that to not do so would be putting myself in danger.

They handed back my wallet, minus my debit card. I called WaMu right away to cancel the card, but by then the thieves had already withdrawn €250 from an ATM. Later that day, I filed a claim for an unauthorized withdrawal, explaining the whole story in detail to a sympathetic customer service agent.

Soon after, I received a letter from Alex Wilson of WaMu Debit Card Claims that said that my claim was denied because I “gave the person who made the transaction permission to use the debit card and PIN.” I called the claims department again and spoke to another sympathetic agent who said she would reopen my claim.

Later, when I hadn’t heard back, I called claims again, and was informed my claim had been denied a second time.

Then, following the advice of the manager of my local WaMu branch, I wrote a letter to WaMu Executive Offices. The case was considered, and denied a third time.

I wrote back, arguing that according to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, I should not be held liable for more than $50 of unauthorized use, since I reported my Debit Card stolen within two business days after I realized the card was missing. I received a reply which denied my claim for the fourth time, stating that “the DCS (Debit Card Services) department deemed your transaction as authorized because you gave your PIN to a third party. Therefore the $50 limit does not apply.” This last letter was dated December 19, 2008.

To be confronted by two men claiming to be police officers on a deserted street in a foreign country is clearly a threatening situation. I did not give my PIN willingly; I was coerced into doing so. Also, the actual card, used along with the PIN for the withdrawal, was just flat-out stolen.

I contacted Chase, which now owns Washington Mutual. Tom Kelly, a spokesman for the bank, responded with a terse denial.

We checked out the debit card issue raised by your reader. Because the customer did not file a police report, we will not reimburse the loss.

How interesting.

I think if the customer service agent Wilairat had spoken with the morning after the incident had asked him to file a police report, he probably would have. Although I can certainly understand why filing a report with the authorities wasn’t the first thought that came to his mind. After all, the thieves had claimed to be police officers.

What’s frustrating is that Washington Mutual (and later Chase) gave him numerous reasons why it denied his claim. If they’re going to deny his claim, is it too much to ask them to stick to the script?

Needless to say, you should never, never, ever give anyone your PIN number.

Wilairat must now decide what to do next. He has two options as far as I can tell: accept the decision or go to small claims court to recover his money.

Update (2/11): Just got an update from Wilairat …

I received a letter from Washington Mutual. They argue that the incident is not governed by the EFTA, and they continue to deny the claim, but even so, they are refunding the full amount of the disputed withdrawal in the interest of customer service.

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Foreign ATM sucks $391 out of a traveler’s account — and his bank lets it

How’s this for a nightmare scenario?

You visit an automatic teller machine while you’re in Europe. You ask for 270 euros. But it gives you nothing. When you return to the States, your bank insists on charging you for the transaction.

It happened to reader David Rea, who works for a real estate company in Denver.

I was recently in Helsinki, Finland, where I attempted to withdraw 270 Euros ($391 at the time) from a bank ATM with a US Bank Visa Debit Card.

Instead of cash, I received a receipt saying there was a malfunction and any funds withdrawn from my account would be returned automatically.

When I got back to the States, I discovered there was still a debit on my account, so I contacted US Bank. US Bank promised to investigate and I sent them the paperwork proving that I had never received any cash from the Helsinki bank.

Apparently the bank in Finland refused to take responsibility for the deduction from my account and US Bank is charging me for cash I never received.

This seems like outright fraud to me.

It is outright fraud.

But the situation was completely preventable. When an ATM doesn’t give you the cash it promises, you need to pay the bank a little visit — if not immediately, then when it opens the next morning. Rea could have probably gotten this settled in Finland.

What if a bank teller had assured him the money wouldn’t be withdrawn? Then it’s still vital to get a name, phone number and e-mail address for the bank, so that if something happens when you return home, you can contact someone yourself instead of relying on an intermediary.

Rea’s bank should have quickly sided with him, of course. If contacting the bank through normal channels wasn’t effective, then he might try appealing to the bank’s general counsel, . Copying Colorado’s Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission — and perhaps also his own lawyer — would underscore his seriousness and, hopefully, lead to a quick resolution.

Bottom line: US Bank needs to protect its customer.

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