An ATM Scam in Panajachel
The following is courtesy of Kathe Kirkebride (May '05).

".....we needed some cash and the first ATM machine we tried only allowed withdrawals of a maximum of 400 Quetzales (about $50). To get a couple hundred dollars would mean several service charges. So we went looking for another ATM machine and found one near a bank under a stairwell. Tracey and Colleen stayed in the car and I went in to use it. I was having difficulty getting the machine to suck up the card…it was a little difficult to insert it. I was finally able
to but the machine seemed not to recognize that it had my card in it. I pushed the cancel button but the card did not come back out of the machine. About that time a young, nicely dressed man kind of  poked his head in the door to ask if the machine was working. I told him that it didn't seem to be, and, furthermore it had sucked up my card and wouldn't give it back.

"On the little screen of the ATM machine were some instructions in Spanish about getting a card stuck in the machine with a phone number to call if I had any problems. The young man asked if he could help and I told him that the card seemed to be stuck. He said something about the phone number on the screen and offered his cell phone to call the number. I thanked him and he asked what the number was so he could dial it. I read it to him, he dialed it, someone
answered the phone, he explained that he was calling from Panajachel on my behalf to report my ATM card was stuck in the machine. He handed me the phone, the fellow on the other end commented that I seemed to speak Spanish well, said they were having some problems with the readytellers in Pana, and asked for the spelling of my name, the name of the bank issuing the card, and the card number. I was having a hard time hearing him and he asked if I were still inside the readyteller room. I told him yes and he suggested that I step outside for better reception. I went outside and did the head turning trick we all do to try to get a clear connection. I told him I had no idea of the number as I didn't have it memorized. He asked for the PIN and I told him that I never reveal my PIN to anyone. He
said that was fine and that I could retrieve my card at 3:00 the following afternoon at a particular bank. Since it seemed to be taking so long, Colleen showed up at about this time.

"I handed the phone back to the man who had also hoped to get some cash from the machine. We both thanked him profusely…and gave him a little hug each. He said he would go back to his hotel and said goodbye.

"We hung out there at the booth for a few minutes trying to get the machine to give up the card without success. We read a bit more on the screen which said that the machine should not keep our card, the phone number to call if it did, and instructions to not accept help from strangers and not to use a borrowed cell phone which of course I just did.

"We now figured that I had been scammed but that the card would be useless without the PIN. We enlisted the police to try to find the guy by going to the other ATM machines without success.

"Now, here is what we finally figured out…this `nice young man' wasn't…he is the one that rigged the machine to retain my card…he didn't dial the number I read him from the screen – he dialed a confederate…the confederate asked for the PIN but I didn't give it to him…he asked me to step out of the booth so the helpful jerk could pull the plastic sleeve with my card out of the machine…he stole my card…the confederate told me I could retrieve the card the next day at 3 PM to give them time to spend the money…the card can also be used as a credit card…we didn't know that it could also be used as a credit card and figured that without the PIN they couldn't do anything with it and waited until the morning to go to the bank and ask them to check the machine…the card was not there and then we immediately reported it.

"They had the card in their possession for about 15 hours before it was disabled and they managed to spend about $600 at gas stations and a McDonald's before it was shut off. None of the transactions took place in Panajachel where we were, but occurred in Quetzaltenango, about 1 1/2 hours away.

"According to our bank we have to fill out a dispute form and provide an explanation about the charges and we won't have to pay them. That is the good and lucky part…the worst part of the whole deal for me is that hug I wasted on that no-good-nick…

"Maybe my gullibility and story of it will save one of you from a similar scam."