ATM scam

I thought I was a savy traveler and we protected our money etc with belts, and so forth..but we still got taken..
I was using the ATM in the town square in Arles and a man reached over and said "you do not do it that way" and hit several buttons on the machine and told me it was canceling the transaction. I was stunned and he did it again and this time, I think in my amazement he took the card when it was ejected without my knowledge..and then he disappeared..the other part of the scam was a "nice man" who was in line stepped up and tried to show me how to get the card back..the first few times I think I hid my pin number but he must have gotten it and then called the other one and before I could call my bank at home to block the card had already taken out $400 dollars from my account. Live and Learn..Never take out money by yourself..always have someone standing right next to you!!!

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8729 posts

If you reported the theft to your bank immediately, as you say you did, they will refund your money. Still, it's a good warning to be careful when using an ATM.

Posted by Jeanette
Cincinnati, Ohio
10 posts

I was not aware of the scam until I returned to the States and checked online my bank statement which was about 10 days later. When I went into the bank after the weekend they put a dispute on the two withdrawals, but I am not sure if that dispute will hold up since I think the withdrawals went through before I could even reach the bank. I thought the bank in Arles had just "eaten" the card and since it was blocked did not go in on the following Monday..

Posted by Frank II
4844 posts

My rule at any ATM, here or abroad, is to never let anyone get near enough to touch the ATM while you are using it. If someone does tell him in no uncertain terms to get away.

The second rule I use is to only use an ATM at a bank during bank hours. (This excludes the airport.)

Posted by Grace
Apache Junction, Arizona, USA
93 posts

On my '09 Rick Steves trip to Italy, my room-mate had a scam on an ATM machine and no one was near her. Her debit card stuck in there and she repeated the transaction and got the card out, and the money she wanted to withdraw.The next day she tried to use the card and it would not let her use it. She went to a bank, same story. That night she called her bank, late at night so the bank would be open in the US. There had already been four withdrawals from her account in Bangkok!

I'll never forget sitting there in the room and hearing her say, "Bangkok?????!!!!!"

She got a stop put on he card, but they would no longer let her use that card. She had to activate her credit card over the phone (she had never activated it).

Someone said that some of the machines have some sort of fake cover stuck on it, that can read numbers.

After this happened, I looked in the Rick Steves guidebook and noticed that he says to always bring two cards.

Posted by Nancy
Bloomington, IL, USA
8729 posts

I believe the rule is that if you report the fraud within two days of discovering it (in your case, after returning home) they should still refund your money. My daughter had money stolen from her account by someone who used her card (she said she didn't know how they got her PIN) but she didn't discover it for two weeks. She immediately reported it, and had her money back within a week.

Posted by Charlie
Honolulu/Seattle, HI/WA, USA
2313 posts

As others have already said, if you do not feel comfortable about your surroundings at an ATM machine, leave. Abort your transaction if you have to but better to be safe than sorry. Also, as someone else said, a good policy is to use an ATM at a bank that is open, or, even if it is not open but will be open the next day just incase the ATM machine eats your card. As said before: except at airports but even then be really cautious of your surroundings.

Posted by Sandi
Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA
22 posts

Here at home, I try to avoid ATM machines that require that my card be [INVALID]ed into the machine due to the worry of the card being eaten by the machine. I try to stick to the machines where I swipe the card. Can I find those kind of machines at banks in Paris?

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
13875 posts

Jeanette, all these terrible things all at once must have ruined your whole trip. I've just seen that in addition to being robbed you didn't like your rooms in Arles either. How was everything else? Did you enjoy the rest of your trip? How about the rest of Arles and Provence?

Posted by kat
291 posts

I was ripped off in Quimper (Brittany) France. I used my ATM to get several hundred dollars. The machine swallowed my card and produced no money. I got my card back from the bank, but the people in the bank seemed unconcerned. They suggested that I didn't take the $ out, so the guy behind me got it.
I demanded some kind of paperwork identifying the transaction. When I got home I submitted it to my bank and finally got my money back.
Good idea to not use an ATM without someone with you.

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
806 posts

I hope my mother isn't reading this thread. She always takes travellers checks (been doing it since 1970-why would she change now? LOL)...and I think I have her almost convinced to use ATMs this year.

Maybe I should just leave her alone. If anything like this happened, I'd NEVER hear the end of it.

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
3278 posts

I'm taking cash this time. The main reason I decided to take Euros rather than rely on my Debit card is that I will mostly be in Italy. It is difficult to find banks in Italy (Deutsche Bank) that honor the Bank of America no-fees deal. A second reason for taking cash is that I guessed (rightly) several months ago that the value of the Euro would go up in relation to the USD.

I have used ATMs in Europe without incident for a number of years. It pays to observe any people in the area of the ATM. Don't hesitate to move on if things don't seem right. Keep a supply of money in your moneybelt so you don't get desperate and have to make an "emergency" ATM withdrawal. That way you can choose your time and place to get cash.

Posted by Christophe
Copenhagen, Denmark
265 posts

There are no ATM's in Europe where you simply swipe the card. Also the ATM's in Europe now read the chip (if the card has a chip)

Posted by Carol
Atlanta, GA, USA
944 posts

I realize that it's not popular to say... but this can happen at home. My mother's card was "skimmed" in Knoxville, TN!

So don't assume the risk is only in Europe!

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
9472 posts

Those of us who travel solo do not have the luxury of using ATMS with a partner on watch . Nor can we split our assets ( amt cards, cash or credit cards)between two persons.. so I think we learn to be a lot more wary and alert,, much quicker then many travellers. My main tip is ,, maintain physical distance from people. Don't let anyone come up behind you at transport ticket machines, or ATMS,, and even in crowded places,, maintain as much space around you as you can( pickpockets have to be able to reach you to get in your pocket) simply keeping your space helps you .

Posted by Brad
Gainesville, VA
8174 posts

As a rule of thumb, if anyone is uncomfortably close to you when using an ATM you should be extra careful.

This year I noticed all the ATM's I used in Scandinavia showed a picture of shielding the view of your pin with your free hand. There have also been really helpful posts on this site of skimming hardware attached to ATM's and how to spot it.

While you can recover from fraud, it's time consuming and a hassle while on vacation. I like to always have a backup. Our technique is to have my wife's account (with me as a second signer) and her debit card as the backup. If anything happens to my card/account, we use hers.

We've been fortunate to never need it but it can really pay off to have emergency phone numbers handy and a backup plan.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
3578 posts

Jeanette - I don't want to seem to jump all over you since you were victimized, but your experience can serve as a lesson for others. If someone approaches you as you are transacting with an ATM - in no uncertain terms should you allow them to. You have to be forceful at times. But there is NO reason for someone to approach you while at an ATM - period! Of course, the scam works because of the second person - the "nice guy" that seems genuinely helpful. That part is harder to counter because Europeans are usually genuinely very helpful to strangers.

Posted by Eileen
Texan in CA
4235 posts

And don't let anyone help you purchase a metro ticket...

Posted by Tyler
San Francisco, California, USA
446 posts

Sometimes, things can just go wrong. I once was at a Bank of America branch, inside the bank, using the ATM to withdraw some cash. The machine malfunctioned and I didn't get all of my money, so I walked over to a teller and complained. While I was talking to the teller, the next guy in line to use the ATM came over and said that he got more money than he had asked for! What happened was that some of the cash I ordered got stuck in the machine and came out along with his withdrawal.

I was lucky this occurred inside the bank and that the other customer was honest about it. He could have just walked away with my money.

Posted by Jeanette
Cincinnati, Ohio
10 posts

I thought I was alone and no one was near me, but the scam artist came out of the blue and acted so quickly that I did not have time to react.
All's well that ends well! We learned a lesson and the bank in Cincinnati credited me for the amount taken out..
The event did not put a damper on our stay in Arles and I have since found out the place we stayed was taken out of Rick's France 2011 book because they agreed with me on the condition.
Even the "most savy" travelers can be taken!!!

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
5047 posts

Elaine - Your mom is not the only one who brings travelers' checks on the trip, so do I, just as I did in 1971. Yes, no need to change. But I don't really suggest this unless you know where the Am. Ex. offices are located in France (Paris) and Germany. On the other hand, when you need to use the ATM and people are around there, just hanging around, I wait them out or go to another one. Exactly, don't let anyone watch you work the know they're up to no good. As pointed out already, don't let your cash reserves on you hit rock bottom before using the ATM. I definitely use it when I have about 30-40 left...mostly, I don't let it get that low. True, about letting someone sell you Metro tickets, don't, which happened to me at Gare du Nord in June; since I was in a foul mood already, I didn't even pay attention to the kid, just didn't answer him. A hand full of tickets from of his pocket...really fishy.

Posted by Madelia
Opal, USA
76 posts

I just returned with my husband from a trip to Spain & Portugal. I had two accounts with money evenly divided for ATM withdrawals while traveling. I had a card for each account and my husband had a card for one of the accounts. On arrival my card for my own account would not work! My card for the joint account did work on three different occasions. Then it would no longer work! For the rest of the trip we relied on my husband's card. I emailed my bank and had money transferred to our joint account. I had tested my cards at my home bank right before the trip & they worked! My guess is that the new travel purse that I used had some very strong magnets that may have demagnetized my ATM cards, although my cards were in my money belt most of the time. If I had been traveling by myself, it would really have been a problem! It was upsetting to me as it was.

Posted by Nancy
Westford, MA, USA
14 posts

I am very sorry this happened to you. My husband and I travel to Europe every summer and like Frank, we try to only use our ATM at a bank during banking hours so if something goes wrong, we can go inside.

Posted by Jeanette
Cincinnati, Ohio
10 posts

I was asked where to stay in Arles..DO NOT stay at the cuisineprovenceal B&B...with Erik...I complained big time and I did get a message that it has been taken out of the book..
I am sorry if this is the wrong place to place this reply, but I can't find out how to reply to a private post..

Posted by steve
gaston, oregon, usa
842 posts

Arles; Hotel De La Muette. A Rick Steves pic that is awesome! Good prices, great rooms, and wonderful helpful staff.