Caution with ATMs

Student and teacher 072114I’m actually visiting my daughter in Seattle where I have a new tech guy to assist me, so things should go a lot faster.  I really appreciate your emails and comments on my posts.
Since often folks comment on previous, older posts, many of my regular subscribers and readers miss these comments.  Some time back I posted a story about “Beware the ATM” when in Panama.  Now many people use ATMs in Panama without problem, but sometimes … Well, there have been a lot of comments and most recently one from A&L Ent …

“Amazing to read this! I just returned from a visit to PC and the interior. My first trip and time using an ATM was a pleasant surprise as I was out of money and headed home, worked fine. BUT , this trip was enough to change that real fast. I had checked my statements online just prior to leaving and at midnight there were 2 duplicate charges, one on 11:59, and again 12:01. 2 different dates, at the 99 in Chitre and another from a withdraw at the 99 in Tocumen. My bank straightened it right out and it went uncontested. Hmmmm… Now I know”.

There have been other interesting comments on this same piece.

“Great article, i own a hostel in David that caters to an international backpackers crowd [bambuhostel.com] and we and our guests have all had the same story till we discourage folks from using the machines at all, panama is a great country but they need to fix the ARM situation for the tourists! Mike”

“The same happened to me with [a bank on] Via Espania in Panama City. The ATM did not give me any money and withdrew 500 bucks from my account. The bank was closed. I went to my ambassador who was very helpful in escorting me to the bank manager the next day. They admitted the mistake, but I think they did only because my ambassador was there. I had to fill out forms for my bank and got the money back from my bank. I have traveled more than 90 countries all over the world and it has never happened anywhere bug in Panama. i believe it is an organised scam, organised by the banks directly. Have you noticed: recently they set up another scam charging 3 bucks for every ATM transaction-every bank in Panama. Fred”

“This happened to me using an ATM located in the Venetto Casino. It gave me $90 in fives and charged me $203 The Casino, hotel or tourist police would not help. I went to the bank office a few blocks away on Via Espana and they would not talk with me about it. I am now waiting to see if my North American bank is going to credit me my $110. The worst part is the Panama bank gets to keep its $3 fee for causing a problem. If you have any problem in panama no will give a rats ass or try to help you. Please understand this upfront. Mike”

“A couple of weeks ago we tried to take $500 out from the ATM in Alto Boquete. It said it was unable to provide that service at the time. We then tried the another bank ATM which said we had reached our daily limit. When we got home and checked the account online the first bank had taken the money. The bank back home said they would release the funds but often the foreign bank would then resubmit the claim. This has now happened so basically the Panama bank who owned the original ATM we went to has stolen $500 from us and we now have to go through the lengthy process of trying to claim it back. Even though I know it will make no difference I am going into the banks local branch to see the manager tomorrow and am going to threaten with the police and let them know in no uncertain terms that it is NOT okay to steal people’s hard earned money. This kind of behavior makes me sick to the stomach. Simon”

“It is happening all over again in Panama RIGHT NOW! The banking system nor it’s government regulators have not learned ANYTHING. ATM says you have a problem with your account and to contact your USA bank.’Thank you for your business.’. You check your account (from the same machine) and find that your account has been debited! You get no money!  You contact the bank that sponsored the machine and they parrot the same message: ‘There must be something wrong with your card or your account. It is possible that the machine is not accustomed to dispensing the large amount that you asked for ($200.00). We can do nothing. We cannot give you cash from your debit card. You must contact your bank in the US to resolve the issue. Good by!’ ‘Click’ (if by phone) or ‘Please leave, NOW’ if you are at the bank. GREAT SERVICE, PANAMA! DickG”

“Here it is, years since this blog article was written, and the Panama ATM ‘nightmare’ is alive and still kicking a$$. I have not been so robbed yet, but I do have many cruising friends who have been. So, in being regularly paranoid I did a little digging. It seems that many of the early ATM machines were originally produced with an easily hacked interface, where as the hacker can empty the machine of its treasure in under a few minutes. He (or she) does this with software, which is probably why everyone reports different error messages. I am assuming the banks don’t want to re-imburse anyone because they have already taken a large hit and your money helps defray the loss. I think most of the vulnerable ATMs were replaced in the states, but I don’t think the Panamanian banks are ready to start changing out machines on their dime… The losses may be much smaller that the cost of new machines?

I started trying to find info so I could continue avoiding the losses and the hassles, so I figure (maybe wrongly) that the ATM’s that are inside major businesses, like big box stores, would be safer, as it might be harder to unplug the machine and plug in their smart phone in such high profile places and they are locked up at night. Has anyone been robbed at those places? Lauri”

“In all of those places, including one attached to, and just outside Caja de Arrohos WHILE THE BRANCH MANAGER WATCHED!! Sistima Clave is run by Banco National de Panama, the government owned bank as I understand it.l So if you really want to pursue a problem in the “courts” in Panama, you may end up with the Government of Panama as your opponent. Good luck with that! DickG”

“In principle it is simple. The ATM controllers who open te machines and fill it up have to make a statement of the exact cash balance stating time and day. electronic control will show what has been charged and to whom. Consequently the scam can be with the ATM people who open the machines or manipulate them in some way. Robert & Helen”

Is every ATM transaction a problem? No, but there are enough reports of hassles and problems that it would seem to make more sense for tourists just to plan on using cash. You can bring up to $10,000 cash into Panama without declaring it.

If you are going to live in Panama, get a Panamanian bank account. If you have a Panama account and use the ATM at your local bank, you shouldn’t have a problem.

Credit cards are widely accepted in Panama as long as they have the “Clave” symbol. I use Capital One which does not charge a “foreign transaction fee” for charges. [And credit cards that charge a “foreign transaction fee” for charges in US $ in Panama to credit card holders from the US who pay in US $ are really ripping you off! A US $ is a US $ in Panama, Ecuador or the US!]

One thought on “Caution with ATMs

  1. Mr .Dietrich It would be great,instead of saying,the bank this,the bank that,actually identifying the banksinvolved,in Panama and the home banks also!!!!!!!!!! Otherwise there are to many ifs and whose. We Americans need a clear line of what’s going on. I am getting sick of half ass BS, Please publish this in your next letter. Pls.reply. Yours Konrad

    Konrad, The only problem … Panama has very different laws in some regards than the US, Europe and Canada. If a bank doesn’t like what you say they can sue you and tie up ALL your assets while a suit drags on for years. Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean you can say it and name names. One expat American discovered this when he complained online about one huge international bank and they tied up all of his assets. That bank eventually was fined a billion or so US $ for money laundering to terrorist and narcotic interests, so maybe what goes around does come around. Regards, Richard

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