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ATM nonsense: be prepared

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A year and a half ago I went to Scotland and my ATM card didn't work, for the first time ever. I then learned that they had enacted a policy whereby I would have to inform my bank about foreign travel (call them in advance).

So for trips since then before leaving the States, I've called them and told them which countries I would be visiting, and when.

Last Saturday I called and told them I would be going to Europe, and would need to withdraw foreign currency with my ATM card, and told them which countries I would visit. The agent read the dates back to me, then read the countries back to me, and I told her one was missing, so she added that one in too.


Then on Tuesday I get to Glasgow, and my card does not work upon arrival at the airport. I figure that particular machine might be out of cash, so I try another machine in the same system, and no luck. Then I try a machine belonging to a different bank, and it does not work there either. So I dig out ~$160 in cash, which is about all the $ I have, and exchange it for ~80ukl, which will not go all that far in the UK, where Pounds will get you what Dollars do in the U.S.

Today I find a payphone (increasingly difficult to do anywhere) and call the number on the back of the card- - a collect call. It works great. The British operator gets me on the bank line, and wishes me well, and after about 5 minutes I get a live agent. The bank agent asks me all kinds of security keys, and then says that yes, she sees that the system has me currently travelling in the UK and other places - - that is not the problem. The problem, she says, is that my card has been blocked, as there are attempted charges that may be fraudulent on my account.

This is kind of scary to me, since that has never happened on my ATM card before (credit card PLENTY of times, but never the ATM card), and she says she will need to transfer me to the fraud department to look into the potentially fraudulent charges.

I get put on hold, then an automated voice asks me to enter different security numbers, and then the automated voice says it will want me to verify whether certain attempted charges were indeed requested by me.

This is taking close to 15 minutes total, and then an automated voice lists three potentially fraudulent charges on my ATM account.


You have probably already guessed what they are: the three potentially fraudulent charges are MY THREE ATTEMPTS TO GET CASH AT THE GLASGOW AIRPORT.

I verify that these were indeed legitimate requests, and the system says that my card is now unblocked.

So even calling them in advance, and telling them I will want cash in the UK, and giving them the exact dates, I STILL get denied at the ATM, and have to jump through hoops to get the card unblocked (which it was immediately - - I walked across the street from the phone booth and got 200 quid from a Royal Bank of Scotland ATM).

So, the Boy Scout motto: be prepared:

1) Know exactly what to do if your ATM request is denied (call the number on the back of the card, collect - - works great) - - I was caught so off-guard I didn't determinedly set out to do this right away, but now I know.

2) Have a batch of cash with you. I am thinking a few hundred in 100-dollar notes - - to trade for local currency - - just in case the above happens to you (or if something even worse happens, which is within the realm of possibility) or if it is somehow impossible to immediately call the bank.

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