$5,500 was stolen from my hotel room! How do I get my money back?

How safe do you feel in your hotel room? Safe enough to carry valuables? Safe enough to lock them in your room safe? Based on Vadim Oleinikov’s experience in the Dominican Republic, even the most impenetrable means of security can be penetrated.

Oleinikov and his wife were staying in the Grand Luxury Bahia Principe Cayo Levantado Hotel, which advertises itself as an “exclusive, adults-only, luxury island escape.” Oleinikov carried $5,500 in cash and locked it in his hotel room’s safe.

His troubles began when his room keycard failed to function twice in the same day. A few days later, the safe did not respond to his programmed code, so it could not be accessed. “We called for service, and they sent a master who opened the safe in our presence,” Oleinikov told us. “We checked the contents of the safe, and everything was intact. The next day, when we needed to go out, we checked the safe and found out that the envelope containing the cash was empty.”

Oleinikov filed a complaint with the hotel, which suspected him of fraud and searched his bags and room in his presence to see if he had hidden the money. “After this humiliating procedure,” Oleinikov said, “we asked the manager to call the police.” Inexplicably, the manager refused to make the call, and Oleinikov was forced to reach out to authorities on his own. He filed a police report with no assistance from the hotel.

The police then came to the hotel to verify his testimony. They found no traces of break-ins either to the room or to the safe.

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The hotel complaint form was answered the day Oleinikov arrived home. The report read:

First of all we would like to thank you for contacting us. Allow me to point out that the safety of our guests as well as their belongings are one of the most important priorities of our hotel. As you know upon learning of your concern, the security agents proceeded with all investigations of the site.

According to the police report, interrogation of staff and their investigation in the hotel they did not find any guilty or proof of robbery. We understand what this loss and the inconvenience may have caused.

Once more we apologize for any inconvenience you may have encountered during your stay. We hope this does not prevent you from visiting us or any of the hotels of our chain Bahía Príncipe Hotels and Resorts, we remain at your service for any further information you may need.

This answer left Oleinikov unsatisfied because it came from the hotel customer service staff and not the main office, from which the hotel manager promised a reply.

Oleinikov also called his tour company the day the incident happened. It said that they would write something to the hotel, but he never heard back from them.

“As we researched after the trip, our case is the common practice of robbery in [the] Dominican Republic,” Oleinikov lamented. “Unfortunately for us, we’ve become another statistic.”

Oleinikov would like for us to advocate on his behalf. We suggested he post about the alleged theft to our forums. There, other posters suggested he request security videos from the hotel, to see who might have entered the room during the day in question. Also suggested was to obtain the logs of how and when the safe was opened. Oleinikov said he tried, but that the hotel refused to provide him with this information.

Other posters questioned Oleinikov’s motives in bringing such a large sum of cash to an international hotel, in a country that has a history of hotel theft. It was suggested that Oleinikov would have fared better by using credit cards or even traveler’s checks. I was wondering why, with such a large sum of money, Oleinikov didn’t use one of the safe boxes at the hotel’s front desk. That way the envelope would have been left with someone who would have been accountable.

Regardless, no matter how nice a hotel’s website looks, it’s always helpful to Google the property and read visitor ratings and reviews on a site like TripAdvisor. While the property had an excellent rating, the website also cited previous thefts there.

Meanwhile, the hotel does not want to cooperate any further and says the fault lies with Oleinikov, who is out $5,500 with no hope of getting it reimbursed.

This, unfortunately, has turned into a very valuable lesson in hotel research and safety. And with this becoming a he-said, she-said type of claim, we’re going to have to file this as a Case Dismissed.

Oleinikov says that even though he couldn’t get his money back, he would at least like to publicize this case so others won’t become victims.

Mark Pokedoff

Four-time Emmy-award-winning television sports production specialist and frequent traveler. Longtime freelance writer and travel blog enthusiast. Proud papa of four amazing kids who have been upgraded to first class more than all their friends combined. Read more of Mark's articles here.

  • AJPeabody

    Hotel room safes are not safe. A few years ago, I put important (to me) but essentially valueless items in a room safe while jet lagged and forgot my self-selected entry code by the morning. It took the desk clerk 30 seconds or less to reset the lock for me. Thus, anyone with the recipe can open any safe in that hotel. Not so safe, eh?

  • Dutchess

    Mind boggling to me that anyone would travel with that amount of cash in an age of ATMs everywhere and credit cards. I don’t want to blame the victim but it’s just common sense. I second the hotel room safes are anything but sentiment.

  • James

    I believe you meant to write, “This, unfortunately, has turned into a very expensive lesson in hotel…” instead of “This, unfortunately, has turned into a very valuable lesson in hotel…”


    We occasionally use room safes but never for anything like this. And I always bring patterned duct tape and write our names on it after applying it to the safe. Our safe was opened one time by staff at a hotel (the manager checked the electronic key entries into the room) but never since we started bringing the tape with us. We also seal envelopes and sign the envelope along the seal. Sounds paranoid, but makes a safe less of an opportunity for thieves.

  • LeeAnneClark

    I feel pity for the LW. That’s a lot of money to lose.

    That being said…I have never, and would never, leave that amount of cash in a hotel safe. Despite being called “safe”, they are not really safe. Clearly, hotel employees have access to them. They are not safety deposit boxes, and hotel workers are not bank employees.

    These days, with the proliferation of ATMs pretty much everywhere around the world, and the ability to use credit cards for most purchases, I can’t really see a need to travel with that much cash. I certainly wouldn’t do it. And the cash that I do carry, I tend to keep on my person. If I’m in a foreign country known for pickpockets and general theivery, I wear a money belt. (I know firsthand how easy it is for pickpockets to silently make off with your stuff…I was in Barcelona once on a cruise, and when I got back to the ship I discovered that someone had sliced the bottom open of my backpack and drained it of its contents. Fortunately, all they got was a couple maps and my cruise ship cardkey…all of my money, passport, etc. were in my money belt still safely under my clothes!)

    Definitely an expensive lesson for Mr. Oleinikov…and I’ll bet he’ll rethink carrying that much cash, or using a hotel safe, again.

  • polexia_rogue

    Not that this applies to the OP but My sister is such a cheapskate she vacationed in Paris and after discovering there was like maybe 3 Citibank ATMS in the entire city she complained to corporate- because she refused to pay a fee to access her money. -Seriously.

    So the next vacation she took like 3,000 euro with her. she didn’t get robbed, but …some people…

  • Annie M

    Hmm I like that idea of the tape! As far as the envelopes – well, someone smart would just take the entire envelope.

  • Annie M

    Who on earth would need that much cash at an all inclusive resort? You should never bring anything on vacation with you that you can’t afford to lose, and that goes for cash, jewelry, expensive cameras. I never understand women that bring tons of jewelry – who cares what you are wearing? You also mark yourself as someone who might have a lot of money by flaunting it.

  • Dutchess

    Doesn’t she know about Charles Schwab? That’s where I keep my travel budget, free withdrawals anywhere in the world!

    When I was a personal banker we had a wealthy client (He owned an NFL team level wealthy). When he travelled, we would get some cash together for him. One time he we had to special order 6 figures in cash and bring it to his office before he boarded his jet. Now that’s how I want to travel!

  • PsyGuy

    I don’t know who to believe, on one hand when they opened the safe with the Master present, why didn’t they check the envelope (maybe they did)? It’s an expensive lesson, but room safes are just a convenience, your valuables are only insured and protected when in the house safe. This is also the DR, $5,500 is a lot of money there, that’s easily someone’s entire annual income (and this assumes a professional). All that said, no property is going to write a check for crime, they are hotels not insurance companies. Yes the LW was a victim, but that’s not a reason to victimize the hotel either.

  • PsyGuy

    They want to impress other people.

  • PsyGuy

    A lot of societies are still very much cash based economies. Japan is highly modern, but unlike the US everyone still uses cash mostly compared to plastic.

  • PsyGuy

    I will only keep valuables in the house safe.

  • PsyGuy

    Valuable works as well, though an expensive and valuable lesson.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s CitiBank everywhere.

  • michael anthony

    Except it says in the narrative, that upon reading reviews of this hotel, there are mentions of previous thefts at this hotel.

    If they have a history of thefts, then obviously there is an ongoing problem that they must not be paying attention to. This is valuable information for a traveler as I’m sure there are properties in that region that take security more seriously.

  • MarkKelling

    While I don’t know what fees your sister might have payed using her ATM card at any ATM where she vacationed, buying any foreign currency here in the US is almost always more costly than using an ATM at the destination and paying the fees. Where you buy it might claim there are no fees and they offer a great deal, but looking at the rate quoted by Google, which is what your card issuer is charged, will show that the rate offered is never very good.

    There are several banks that offer no foreign transaction fee Debit cards. Capital One 360 is the one I use and I have never paid a single penny in fees to get money anywhere in the world. They also do not charge any other fees on their 360 account.

  • MarkKelling

    Not how I want to travel. Maybe it’s because I am not that level of wealthy, but having that much cash on hand would cause me to lose sleep at night working who might steal it. I am happy just having my credit cards and an ATM card with a sufficiently high limit to cover anything I might want to do.

  • MarkKelling

    While I understand not everyone wants to, or can, have credit cards and a bank account, carrying this much cash money seems to be the wrong thing to do. Maybe this will at least serve as a lesson to others to choose a safer place to store cash if you do have to carry it.

  • Carrie

    Don’t safes have “master codes” that are given to the hotel in case of a lock out? Also, depending on the age of the safe, I believe the hotel can also run a list of codes that were last used to see if it it customer or hotel code was used. That’s a start.

    We go to LV frequently and would never think of putting cash in the room safe. But then if you stay in a populated area (like the strip) there are usually no worries carrying cash. I don’t know how safe it would be in the DR to do this.

  • joycexyz

    Thieves are the ones who are most impressed. Moths to a flame!


    I don’t travel with much valuable. Usually put itineraries, prescription meds and similar stuff in the safe. Have had some meds vanish in the past so I use the safe for those types of things. Never money and I do not bring real jewelry with me either.


    My envelope usually contains hard copies of business schedules and similar information. Just in case my electronics fail.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    On a cruise, one of the couples going on an excursion with us locked their tickets in the safe, which broke, and then they almost missed the excursion. I wouldn’t bring cash or anything actually valuable and then I don’t need a safe.

  • PsyGuy

    Thieves are very impressionable people, that’s why all the good ones go into banking and finance.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s reviews, you can find a review or comment on just about anything, and you can’t secure yourself 100% from crime, it’s crime.

    There is an ongoing problem, mainly a country in despair and such destitution that has plagued the country.

  • Lindabator

    Just got back from Japan, and STILL managed to find plenty of ATMs to get my money from. And used my credit card at any of the bigger places anyway

  • Lindabator

    you can always purchase a pre-paid card to take along with you, and a little cash – but why would you need $5500 at an all-inclusive resort in the 1st place?

  • jah6

    I can’t imagine bringing such a large sum of money to a 3rd world country like the Dominican Republic. I don’t trust room safes any more since the one we had in Laos stopped working after a power cut and my passport was locked inside. Fortunately I checked it the day before I needed the passport, but it could have been a disaster.

  • lcpossum

    I spend lots of time in Vietnam and generally carry a few thousand USD when I go there. Most of what folks are saying above is erroneous for VN. If you need USD you will NOT get it from either an ATM or a bank unless you have it wired into your USD account at that bank. So, if you don’t have a USD account and you need that specific currency you had better bring it with you. I’m not a world traveler and have no idea how things are done in most places around the world so I refrain from telling folks what they should have done. Most of the advice given above is also from people who are not world travelers but they still know how things are done everywhere. NOT.

  • jsn55

    This is an extremely odd story … carrying around that kind of cash is just bizarre.

  • PsyGuy

    Oh ATM’s are everywhere, but that’s how people transact business, they are still paying in cash.

  • jah6

    There’s no ATMs on the island he was staying, but he could’ve taken a ferry over to the mainland and found one.

  • jah6

    I just got back from Vietnam. Why would you need USD? I used the local currency which came out of the ATM machine.

  • lcpossum

    Really? You live in Vietnam and don’t know what USD is for? You bought your house with VND? Costs much less if you’d paid with USD.

  • jah6

    ???? Where did I say I lived in Vietnam?

  • lcpossum

    That’s my point. I DO live in Vietnam, have a house in Hanoi and a rough house on 5 ha. up near Sapa. I live there and I know the value of USD in VN. You’re a tourist and you can take care of your wants with VND and have no inkling of why someone would want to hold USD in Vietnam, yet that doesn’t keep you from dumping on the guy who knows why USD is something good to have over there.

  • jah6

    Your comments have nothing to do with this original story and comments.

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