Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Debit Card Debacle

It all started the day my debit card stopped working.

Standing in the locked ATM chamber, I swiped my card through the machine with increasing frustration. I looked over my shoulder and smiled sheepishly at the people forming a line behind me just outside the chamber.

Crap, I thought, just work already.

But every time I swiped the card, the infernal machine would taunt me in Spanish, telling me to try again. After a few more failed attempts, I said to hell with it, put my busted ATM card back in my wallet, and shamefully left the chamber.

Banco de Bogotá 
The next day I went to Banco de Bogotá to get a replacement card. Waiting in line to be helped, I ran through my mind all the things I would need to say in Spanish to communicate my problem—this would surely stretch my Spanish abilities to their limits.

Much to my delight, I was able to tell the bank teller my problem and she passed me on to a banking specialist to take care of my replacement card. After filling out some paperwork, they said I was good to go and I headed out the door to try my new card at the ATM.

Sliding the card, I was happy to see the machine read it without a problem, but when I entered my PIN, it said I had inputted the wrong one. After trying and failing with the PIN a few more times, the machine told me my card was now blocked.

Flustered, I returned to the banking specialist, who told me she had forgotten to give me the new PIN to my replacement card—I had wrongly assumed the PIN would be the same as was with my old card.

Now in possession of the new PIN, I tried it with the replacement card, but to no avail—it was still blocked. Since I figured the card would unblock within a day or two, I let it be for the time being.

A few days later, I went to the ATM at the mall where I work out to see if the card was working. After sliding the card and inputting the PIN, sure enough, the screen said: “blocked.”

Annoyed, I shoved the card in my pocket and headed to the gym to blow off steam. After my workout sitting on the bus returning home, I felt in my pocket and realized that my card was gone—it must have fallen out when I changed at the gym. Since the card was already blocked, I didn’t worry that whoever found it would be able to steal money, but dreaded having to return to Banco de Bogotá to try to explain in Spanish what had happened.

In the United States when you lose a debit card, all you need to do is call your bank to have a replacement card mailed to your house—I figured it would be a similar process in Colombia.

But I should have known better—nothing is ever simple in Colombia.

When I returned to Banco de Bogotá, I found myself sitting face-to-face with the same banking specialist as before. I figured it would be the same process as the last time I asked for a replacement card—fill out some paperwork and get a new card on the spot; however, after doing so, the lady gave me a piece of paper showing that my card was blocked and told me to have a good day, as if we were done.

Confused, I loitered for a moment then asked what I was supposed to do. Although I did not understand every word that came out of her mouth, I thought I heard her say something about registering that the card was lost with the police online. Doubting that I had understood her clearly, I returned a few days later with my friend Lynn, who is more or less bilingual. Lynn confirmed that I had heard the woman correctly—I had to register the debit card lost with the police before the bank could issue me a new one.

I didn’t bother to ask why.

When I finally managed to locate the place on the police website where I could report a lost card and filled out the online form, the site rejected the information and did not let me print what I needed to show the bank to get a new card. With the website apparently suffering from technical difficulties, I improvised and printed the screen before submitting the information, hoping that would be good enough.

The next day, I returned yet again to Banco de Bogotá and the same old banking lady looked at me with what I could have sworn was disdain. With a forced smile, she asked if I had the form and I showed her what I had printed out, watching with hopeful eyes as she examined it. Much to my relief, she deemed the form acceptable and went about the process of issuing me a new card.

Finally, she gave me the new card and accompanying PIN and I went to try my luck at the ATM. This time when I swiped the card and entered the PIN, the machine decided to give me my money.

With crisp Colombian pesos in hand, I headed straight for the bar.

Kids, don’t ever lose your debit card in Colombia. It’s a pain in the culo.

1 comment:

  1. When I lived in Colombia I was able to get around the bureaucarcy by smiling and flirting if the person I was dealing with was a guy, of couse I was young and blonde back then.