Is your money more at risk in Ecuador or the Netherlands?
Within moments of landing on continental Europe some white-collared low life with a card reader was draining our Charles Schwab bank account. Ironically we’d just spent over eight months traveling in South America. From Ecuador to Argentina we had heard dramatized second hand accounts of armed robberies and stories of swiped smartphones. Yet there I was watching our luggage do the carousel loopty-loop as Melissa fell prey to a cowardly ATM bandit. Assume what you may about safety in Ecuador, but in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport we had the baggage claim blues. And we didn’t discover the theft for about a week.
Having a blast as we were bleeding cash
Many first time visitors to Amsterdam find it a bit overwhelming. I know I did the first time I travelled there back in 2003. Centraal Station opens to the infamous red-light district where ladies peddle their parts and partyboys drool along the canals. Shady characters seem to roam the streets avoiding eye contact. However, Amsterdam is a safe place to visit. I visited for the second time in 2009 with my brother the freak. That’s when I discovered many amazing things to do Amsterdam. Teeming with many of the finest museums in the world, the city is a cultural and architectural treasure.
On my third visit to the city this past July I had no fears. Simply returning to my favorite metropolis in Western Europe I was eager to explore with our travel buddies Julie and Tim. We met for our first international rendezvous since Argentina and Uruguay. As we explored Amsterdam then Venice, and Florence, Melissa and I didn’t realize we had anything to fear.
The harsh reality of ATM fraud
While on this fourteen month journey, Melissa and I have relied on my father to handle our finances. Good decision #1. We also elected to bank with Charles Schwab and encourage all serious domestic and international travelers to set up an account with the bank. This is because they charge no fees for ATM withdrawals. Moreover, if you are charged fees to take out your hard earned cash, Charles Schwab reimburses your fees at the end of the month. So we only use our Charles Schwab Visa Check Card when we are traveling far from home and have no access to our other bank’s ATMs. Good Decision #2.
We created a travel business plan before we left home for our long term trip. Good decision #3. As part of our travel business planning I came up with an idea. I recommended that we only keep a maximum of $5,000 in the accounts that we brought cards for. Good decision #4. My logic was that if we fell victim to an ATM robbery that the thief would see that we only had a relatively small balance and would not kidnap us in order to drain our account over a long period of time. Now I am not a paranoid person, but I like to be prepared for all situations while traveling. This is especially true since I am traveling with my wife.
How good decision #4 paid off
My father is in charge of replenishing our money once our account dips below a certain monetary level. We did not get robbed at gunpoint and held hostage. But the thief that stole our information (most likely by using a card reader at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport), used our information to make maximum allowable withdrawals twice a day over the course of three days. Since we had under $2,500 in our Charles Schwab account, they had fun with our card and moved on to some other poor schlub after draining us to nil.
When my father checked our balance less than a week after the thievery, he was surprised to discover our balance was $0. Assuming we went on some sort of spree he sent an email letting us know this fact. I had just returned from a steep hike up to Piazza Michelangelo in Florence with Julie and Tim, when Melissa told me about the email. We both freaked out trying to discover what had happened.
Aftermath and amazing staff at Charles Schwab
Melissa and I have an international Skype phone plan which allows us to call anywhere in the USA, including cell and landlines for one monthly fee. Good decision #5. We used this plan to call my father and asked him to gather the ATM receipts that we had used in South America. Meanwhile we gathered the few from Iceland and the Netherlands. Then we called Charles Schwab customer support and continued to hyperventilate.
Erin took our call with very little wait time. Her voice was reassuring and our hyperventilation subsided. As we spoke to Erin we were able to deduce what must have happened in the Schiphol Airport. She put us on the line with the fraud department and they took care of us as well. Within days, we had received over $2,400 in provisional credit. This credit became official money when we printed some forms at our homestay in Barcelona and faxed it from the home office of the opera singer we were lodging with (we live an odd life).
Mark from the fraud prevention and investigations department was very patient through the process. We wanted to be very thorough to make sure we got everything back. We had already destroyed Melissa’s evil, tainted card and now use mine which has a different account number and is not sullied. We now check our Charles Schwab Visa Check Card balance regularly. Good decision #6.
Hugs and head noogies
We have traveled to 35 countries and 30 states in the USA and this is the only time we’ve fallen victim to fraud. But every year many millions of dollars are stolen by pieces of dirt like the garbage face who stole our information at the baggage claim near Amsterdam. Big thanks and hugs to my dad, Erin, and Mark for making this process easier. A lifetime of knuckle sandwiches, head noogies with power drills, and painful atomic wedgies for the piece of garbage who stole our (or rather Charles Schwab’s insurance) dollars and euros.
Once again our 6 good decisions for long term travel.
Good decision #1 Find someone you trust to help with finances.
Good decision #2 Bank with Charles Schwab and get their Visa Check Card.
Good decision #3 Check out our tips for a travel business plan.
Good decision #4 Travel with an account with a moderate to low balance.
Good decision #5 Get a Skype International phone plan (not just video Skype).
Good decision #6 Check your balances regularly online.
Never let detestable subhumans make you afraid to travel, travel, travel.
Anyone else have stories of being ripped off? Leave a comment and share your stories to help future travelers.