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

By | October 22nd, 2008

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Instead of cash, I received a receipt saying there was a malfunction and any funds withdrawn from my account would be returned automatically.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What if a bank teller had assured him the money wouldn’t be withdrawn?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.

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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, Lee Mitau. 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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