Thursday, February 28, 2013

Travel Money Card - Robbed of $10,500 with ATM card skimming

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Yesterday is a day that was any traveller's nightmare.

I went to withdraw cash to pay for our accommodation.

My card says there is $0 funds?
The next ATM says I have only a small amount of funds?
Maybe my home bank has problems?
I try another ATM, then another bank, and it says the same.
I figure the card is faulty, so I go to look on the Travel Money site and I am locked out.

I start to feel something is not right.

I had just topped up funds two weeks ago, and used it two times.

I try my best Spanish at two banks to see if they can call my bank in Australia, and they are banned from international phone calls.

So I head to Policia - the police station.
Soon I am crowded around by about 6 policemen.
They soon find one that has pretty good English.
I explain my problem.
When I tell him how much is missing, they march me a bit faster to the Internet cafe that has international calling.

We try 6 international phone numbers.
2 times I am disconnected mid calls, and the one puts me on hold and wants all sorts of bank numbers.
I am to stressed to think of secret passwords and questions, plus the phone line is crackling like Rice Bubbles.

By the time I get through, I am pretty wired.

After another bout of questions, he tells me I have no funds.
"No kidding" I reply!  "So where are they?".
Security says he can't tell me?  I get a bit annoyed at this - more hysterical!
He then informs me my card looks to have been cloned, or skimmed at an ATM.
They have spent over $10,000 in a week - and we have to work out if there is more before that.
Seems they have had a great shopping spree in USA at Timberland, ToysRus, Victoria's Secret, and a number of other stores.

Well firstly, I never use my Travel Card for anything but taking out funds at the bank.

I cover my hand when I use my PIN.

I never put that much money on my Travel Card.
But when I was in Panama, I was locked out of my banking.
So when funds matured from my investment, they transferred it as a lump sum.
Never again!
Never will I put that kind of money on a Travel Card.

So, I am told to printout this 3 page form.
Complete and fax back to Australia - not scan?
I have to complete a Police Report - well this will be in Spanish - we are in Colombia.

I get off the phone and just cry.
I am in shock - numb - more tears - they just flow and I can't stop them.

The lovely policeman pays for all my international calls - so kind.
In fact they spent 2 hours helping me.
Three of them stay the whole time.

They then found a bi-lingual lady who has Colombian parents and is visiting from Canada.
Her family comfort me.
She spends the next hour plus assisting with getting the right documents copied.
A Police Report is done on the spot and printed out and signed.
We get scans sent to my email.
Copies for her.
Copies for the Police.
It is incredible teamwork!

Alas - this country town I am in has no international fax lines.
We wander to the Telecom office, but it is closed for siesta.
The lovely lady who is helping says she is going back to Bogota that night and will fax.
So I give her $10,000 COP and hope it is enough.
She says "her family will forward me the copies and takes our forwarding hostel address".

I say "I will try hotels and more stores til her bus leaves and meet her at the bus station".
The Telecom office has a super long siesta.
At 4 pm they are still closed.
I give up and we wait back at the bus terminal.

I come back and send emails with the scanned attachments to my banking friend in Australia.
Within hours she is on the case and helping me.

By the end of the day I am completely wiped.
Not just our of cash, but out of steam - I feel like a roller coaster has just made a pancake out of me.
And I feel for my son.
He has not cried once.
He has rubbed my back, encouraged me and been so strong - a champion!
I try to encourage him it will be OK.

We are at a quiet hostel, and there are two Australian girls here.
They invite us to share a nice dinner.
As we talk I learn one of the girls had been robbed of absolutely everything.
I feel for her, but I realise it could be worse.

I have learnt is that the skimmer was attached inside the magnetic card reader of the ATM.
This would have made the magnetic card reader protrude slightly forward.
It was probably not at a Bank ATM (In Panama and Colombian nearly all ATM machines are outside the bank - never inside - making it easier for this to be fitted.
I have also learned that once they make a false card using my data on the magnetic stripe, they go on a shopping spree.
They target large stores that swipe credit cards without a pin.
They can go undetected, and shop to the limit.
They usually make smaller purchases that do not require authorisation or will alert the bank.
They also target international travellers, as the bank will not notice the transactions as out of the ordinary.
As this was a Travel Money Card, there are no on-line statements.
I have never logged in to check this account, but now know I can - when I am not locked out of on-line banking that is!
So I may be (hopefully temporarily) much poorer, a little wiser, and very upset.

I feel saddened that this was discovered in Colombia.
The skimming may well have occurred in USA or Panama, so I don't want Colombia to get a bad wrap.
This is a lovely place.
It is really lovely!
The people I have met so far, and my Colombian friends are just so nice.

I am also so grateful for all my Internet and Facebook friends who sent me encouraging and supportive messages, and their prayers.
Thanks a million - I feel them.

I am counting on the bank to sort this out.
I am thankful it is not all my money.
I am thankful it is not a physical robbery.
I am thankful we are safe, healthy, and can continue to travel.

And I am much wiser on credit card fraud now.
And I am not a quitter.
I am down, but I am not out.
Good things are ahead.

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