Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Cash machines in the US - a warning

Travellers to the US who plan to use cash machines - beware. Debit card withdrawals may be blocked by your bank.

My Natwest card ceased to function after I had withdrawn about $140 from ATMs in Colorado last month. The explanation from the bank's security and fraud department was that its system had detected an "unusual" pattern of withdrawals.

No account was taken of the fact that I am a frequent traveller, that a couple of small withdrawals in January, in a ski resort, were perhaps not very unusual, or that, on this occasion, my wife was using her card to access a joint account - making it extremely unlikely that cloning had occurred.

However, there is no reason to doubt the Natwest's claim that cloning is a major risk in the US, which lags behind the UK and those other European countries where chip and pin technology has been introduced. Its rationale is that its system was designed to protect its customers from being cleaned out.

One bank employee - I spoke to several - said an attempt had been made to contact me, though clearly, unless my calls were being diverted I could not have answered as I was out of the country. And I had not provided the bank with a mobile number.

Whichever bank you use, it is worth checking whether there is anything you can do to head off the inconvenience. Natwest says I should carry its emergency telephone number with me in future - I can reverse the charges if I need to call - so that I can get my card unblocked.

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