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Careful About Those Debit Cards....

Discussion in 'General Chat' started by Crepes4Suzette, May 26, 2017.

  1. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    So here's what I learned after becoming stranded in Madrid with no access to cash for the first time in about 40 years of traveling (having always traveled with the same plan: a debit card, a credit card, and a not-large amount of home cash to exchange immediately - including 2 previous caminos without difficulty). I always took it for granted that if anything went wrong, things could be worked out with a phone call.

    There seem to be basically 3 networks that "issue" debit cards: STAR is more common in the U.S. than in Europe, and then there are Cirrus and Plus, which are all over and more used in Europe. Each of these networks put out recommendations to banks about security measures, and it's up to the bank to decide which of those measures are going to to be utilized. Then the bank's IT department sets things up accordingly. So, it really IS the bank who sets these up, and in this case, the local branch manager had no idea what was being done by IT that affected debit card users, and indeed didn't even seem to understand the process.

    Although it wasn't clear until much later, I eventually found out that all areas of Spain are now blocked for my card, which is on the STAR network. Another person that same day had a card that was on the STAR network also, and it worked fine at Barajas......it really seems to be the individual banking organization that chooses what to restrict. It would have done no good to have continued on Camino, because there would have been no opportunity for cash at all anywhere along the way, and I'm fortunate to have made the decision to come home once things didn't look like they could be worked out without a great deal of trouble for my husband and days of stress for both of us. Today, the bank's regional manager basically said that fraud is so bad that they have to keep up these stringent measures, and that they might not know from one day to the next what was being implemented (which sounded unlikely, and more like a way of absolving her organization of any responsibility for this). She WAS, however, able to tell me that my card would not be usable in Spain at all because the entire country is now essentially blocked. They seemed to take no responsibility for not warning about any of this, despite my always filing itineraries with them 3 weeks before any overseas travel.

    My bank once, long ago, said "have an alternative source of money", which I took to mean in case a machine wasn't working somewhere......not "don't rely on your bank card at all". When this happened at 4 different machines, they all gave the same message: that it was the "issuer" who was preventing the transaction. I called my bank (thankfully, they were 6 hours behind, and open). The manager basically said my card looked fine - balance fine, no alerts, nothing..... and there was nothing he could do about it. He gave no indication that he would get back to me.

    Four hours later, he called back and left a voicemail (which didn't go through because my phone plan advised cellular data be turned off when overseas except for brief needs ..... and voicemail evidently relies on cellular data in some way). It arrived when I returned and turned cellular data back on. The voicemail said that he had spoken with IT and that he'd "just found out that we have several areas of Spain blocked" (all of Spain has been blocked, according to the regional manager I spoke with today, and all related to serious fraud problems).

    Western Union is an option, and there's an office in Terminal 1 in Barajas. Once someone learns how it works and arranges for a person to go to a Western Union office with the needed amount of cash in hand to send to another Western Union office, (and has sent the transaction reference passcode to the receiver to identify them as the one for whom the money is intended), money can be wired immediately (provided that both offices are open at the same time). If the wire has to go through a bank account in any way (pretty much everything other than going with cash to Western Union seems to involve a bank wire in some way), it takes 2, sometimes 3 days.....so you're stuck wherever you are in the meantime. I had enough on my credit card balance to get a ticket home, thankfully, but this is no joke, and can take days to remedy if you get stuck like this.

    A camino can't be done all on credit, of course, and cash-on-hand will only go so far, even if you've risked carrying a good chunk of home currency. Even if you have some cash withdrawal ability from your credit card, it might not be enough to get you through an entire Camino without any hope of being able to access cash anywhere in Spain. Or New York. Or Philly according to this regional manager. And nobody uses traveler's checks anymore.

    I have a new debit card on the way that works on Plus and is allegedly fine to use overseas. I have a new credit card with a larger cash withdrawal possibility (they all charge a fortune for this). But my trust is a little low. So, just make sure you're using a bank who pays attention to where you're going on your itinerary and is responsible enough to bother to tell you if they've blocked a place you're going to.

    Sorry this is so long-winded, but my hope is that people will be aware of their options and have a good talk with their banks before going to Spain and relying on their debit cards in any way.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2017
  2. hindsfeet

    hindsfeet Donating Member Donating Member

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    Thanks Crepesy, I think that there will be quite a few surprised pilgrims. I am wondering if this all transpired since that hacking episode a week or two ago in Spain? So appreciate the update. Cash IS king.........That is not the kind of adventure you were expecting....:(
     
  3. Greg Canning

    Greg Canning Well-Known Member

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    Hi C4S

    So sorry to hear your Camino was so badly interrupted. I suppose that it was to some extent lucky that it happened where it did rather than in some small town out on the Meseta! Still it's no consolation and your bank doesn't seem to have been very helpful. A shoulder shrug is no use when you are cashless and far from home.

    Hopefully you will get back on your Camino soon.

    Buen Camino

    Greg
     
  4. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    Thanks so much, Greg! Those were my thoughts exactly - better to not be in a worse place. I'm transitioning to new/more cards and will ditch the bank who did this without telling its customers (who submitted itineraries) like a hot potato when I get back. I have a return flight out on June 7th thanks to a credit card and a kind employee with Iberia. Beth
     
  5. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    I didn't know about that! That might explain it (although with this bank, I suspect it's also a matter of cluelessness and irresponsibility - they have New York (although I got cash at the airport) and Philly blocked too (and didn't bother telling me), and they were both on the itinerary. I guess we'll find out if this happens to more people (and they're willing to talk about it in a forum). I'm glad you have friendships with your bank manager - that should go a long way toward preventing something like this. Beth
     
  6. Wily

    Wily Camino Francés 2016; Camino Portugués 2017

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    Hey C4S - What an amazing experience! I was never aware of this "blocking" by banks particularly when you notify them of your travel plans. Then, not to alert you up front as to this is just irresponsible on their part. They put you in the situation that none of us every hope to find ourselves in. As you said, with 40 years of travel experience and doing everything by the book, this type of situation should not have occurred to you. Glad to hear you've changed banks!

    The debit card I carry has the Plus symbol on it and it, fortunately, has worked fine for me. But, as you said, this appears more a matter of a particular bank's policies rather than the card itself. I generally carry a significant amount of cash on me, but not enough to last an entire Camino. Your experience will certainly make me rethink how I access money as I travel. By sharing this experience, you may have helped other pilgrims avoid this same thing. Thanks.
     
  7. Greg Canning

    Greg Canning Well-Known Member

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    My bank no longer require us to notify them if we are travelling abroad. Instead they monitor the cards and if they see "suspicious" activity they send a text to my phone asking if it was me. I have to respond with a "Y" or "N" response. If I don't respond or send a "N" then they block the card!.
     
  8. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    It's especially good that they text you, because while texting worked immediately, voicemail doesn't seem to load if you have you phone's Cellular Data off, as many plans advise you to do when you're outside their usual coverage areas. Thanks for telling me about that, Greg. It will help me ask the right questions of the new banks I'm now dealing with.
     
  9. NOQ1015

    NOQ1015 Member

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    I begin my Camino in August...being left with no financial resources is a HUGH fear I have to overcome. I am so sorry this has happened to you but really appreciate your sharing it in this forum. It certainly helps me to plan for my 1st Camino. Your advice...A "Star" credit card and plenty of cash. I have a layover in Madrid then go to Biaritz. My question is - where can I exchange American currency? Thank you for being so kind and generous with your time and caring advice.
     
  10. Wily

    Wily Camino Francés 2016; Camino Portugués 2017

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    Hey NOQ1015 - If I didn't misread C4Ss post, I think she had problems with her "Star" card. But, it may have been more an issue of her bank rather than the card itself. I have walked two Camino and both times successfully used my "Plus" debit card.

    You can exchange American currency at most large banks in the larger cities. You should have no difficulty in Pamplona, Burgos, Leon, or Santiago. You csn also exchange money at Bajaras Airport when you are in Madrid. You might also consider taking Euro with you. I purchased Euro from AAA prior to leaving the States. In fact, I carried more Euro from home than dollars. Their exchange rate is pretty comparable to others and then I didn't have to do any transactions at Spanish banks. My general rule of thumb was to carry enough Euro to cover my expenses between large cities or for about ten days. Again, with my debit card, my ATM transactions worked fine, but C4Ss warning is well taken. Buen Camino!
     
  11. Kim Federici

    Kim Federici Active Member

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    Oh, Crêpes...I am so sorry. Thanks so much for the heads up and you will be responsible for a lot of people not dealing with this sort of stupid in the future. Even tho our bank does tell us we don't have to let them know, I still stop in to our small bank in our little town. And it is not clear on my card if this is a Star, Plus, or Cirrus but I will check in with them directly. Like you we always consider it as a plan with fall-backs, but it is a time of banking craziness. Have a safe return and keep po9sted on your future plans as well.
     
  12. hindsfeet

    hindsfeet Donating Member Donating Member

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    Hi NOQ....I know that Wily mentioned also getting Euro from AAA before leaving for your
    trip. My bank offers that service as well. You just have to order the Euro several weeks ahead of time and then they call you and say "Your money is here!".
     
  13. NOQ1015

    NOQ1015 Member

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  14. NOQ1015

    NOQ1015 Member

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    Thank you Wily and hindsfeet! I will explore both those options. They are very doable. I will definatly bring Euros with me:))))
    I know I speak for others when I say this blog has become a life line to addressing potential road blocks along the way to my 1st Camino. Blessings on you all!!!!
     
  15. Tom V

    Tom V Member

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    C4S, do you mind saying which bank caused all your headaches?
     
  16. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    NOQ, if you can get a card that works with Plus or Cirrus ATMs best, it might be better than the ones that work more on STAR, although there were other people with STAR "based" cards (if I have that correctly) who were able to get money at Barajas that day. It turned out to be the little banking system that I use here, although they initially denied it and had to backpeddle and tell the truth once they figured out what that was. Their bank managers don't really understand what their Fraud Alert people are doing (contracted out), or what their IT people are doing based on what the bank decides it's risk-tolerance is. Three days ago I tried to donate online to an organization in Spain, and the entire transaction has been lost - it never went through. Just take diverse options for getting cash - maybe two different debit cards, a credit card or two with enough of a cash withdrawal option to be useful, put what you can on credit if you have to (some towns will have hotels, although this could get expensive if you weren't counting on it), and take cash to exchange. Western Union is in most larger towns - Lugo, for instance, has a number of them. It just requires either a spouse/family member/friend who will go with cash to a Western Union office at home to get it immediately. I'm taking a larger amount of cash this time, and have arranged several more banking options, including one that will exchange USD for Euros right here at home. The good news is that if worse comes to worse, the American Consulate in Madrid can help - their emergency number is +34 915 87 20 00. It supposedly answers 24/7 for emergencies, and the consulate itself if open for non-emergent matters weekdays 8:30 - 5:30 in Calle de Serrano, 75, Madrid. There are ways to work this out. As Kim said, it's a rough time for banking now because of all the fraud and I just got caught out with a really irresponsible home bank.
     
  17. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    It's a small group of local banks east of Pittsburgh, Tom. They aren't affiliated with any larger entity, which is probably part of the problem. I'm thinking that these little banking groups are not able to fund the necessary support to handle fraud and IT problems, and in this case didn't seem to understand how their own system was set up.
     
  18. Wily

    Wily Camino Francés 2016; Camino Portugués 2017

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    Speaking of small banks, I found that using an ATM at the smaller regional banks in Spain problematic. Although a town may have an ATM, your card may not work in it as I found out. However, at the larger banks, often found in the cities, your card should work fine under usual circumstances. As I mentioned above, carry enough cash to get you from large city to large city. Or, carry enough cash, as you can best approximate your expenses for about 10 days. That way, you won't find yourself running short and hoping the next town has a bank/ATM that will accept your card. Although I don't like carrying real large sums of money on me, I also don't let my valuables leave my person so as to minimize theft.
     
  19. Kim Federici

    Kim Federici Active Member

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    I am part of a Federal Credit Union. I am going to review this issue with them this next week and I will let you all know if any direct information comes round
     
  20. NOQ1015

    NOQ1015 Member

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    Thanks for all this information my Camino friends! I'm leaning towards stocking up before I leave home and wearing it. I'll bring a debit and credit card too.
     
  21. Tom V

    Tom V Member

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    This is a very helpful discussion. I had planned to get Euros in Madrid but now I think I'll make sure that I leave home with enough to get me through more than a week. I use PNC Bank in Cincinnati and my cards have Plus, Star, and Interlink logos on the back. I walked the Camimo in 2015 and had no problems using these cards in ATMs and found that with-drawling cash via debit cards to be the most efficient way to get money and pay for things. BTW, a very helpful Spaniard in a small town on the Camino, when I asked for the location of an ATM, told me that the ATMs in larger towns in Spain have lower fees than those in really small places. FYI!
     
  22. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    I lived in Louisville until age 25, Tom (very long time ago). Love driving through Cinci and on past "Florence Y'all" to get back to visit. I had no problems with debit card on 2015 and 2016 Caminos either, which was why this was such a surprise. I'm taking Euros from here too this time. Thanks for bringing up the advantage of using ATMs in larger towns.
     
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  23. Mary

    Mary Member

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    Good Grief!! I just looked at my card that I got from my bank specifically to use on the Camino and it is a STAR! It's a pretty big bank here in Florida but I will call them on Tuesday to make sure I can use the card. I don't have time to get a new one since we are leaving on Friday. The only card that I have with a PLUS on it is a credit card and I'm sure the cash advance fees are ridiculous. We are bringing enough Euros to last us about a week each but will probably bring more US Dollars with us than we had planned. Praying I get good news from our bank!
     
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  24. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    Using a big bank probably will be the key. Others were using STAR at Barajas and doing fine, and I've used my STAR card all over Europe in the past also. The problem was the little tiny banking system I've been using and their extremely high use of blocking recently. Hopefully by talking with them they will double-check and all will be fine.
     
  25. Gerry Vandermaat

    Gerry Vandermaat Donating Member Donating Member

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    Crikey Crepe that's a real crappy experience. Thanks for the heads up - it is really appreciated. I use a Visa Travel Money card from my bank (which happens to be the biggest in Australia) and load it up with the currency i need before i go - mostly Euros. This card can handle up to 10 currencies - but you have to remember to make the country you are in the primary currency which is easily done online. It's easy to reload and i have had no problems with it in The US, Spain, England, Greece(except when the banks ran out of money in 2015), Ireland, France, Italy. Hopefully no troubles when we go to Scandinavia this year. I had no problems with cash withdrawals along the Camino - except in San Juan Ortega where there was no ATM and the inn keeper would not accept a card - lots of sweet talking was needed - lucky he had some english.

    Good luck.

    Hope you get sorted out C4S.
     
  26. John Ciribassi

    John Ciribassi New Member

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    I am currently on Camino and I have used my Star debit card at a few restaurants in Spain without issue. Have not tried an ATM yet.took out extra cash in St. Jean just in case.
    John
     
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  27. BROWNCOUNTYBOB

    BROWNCOUNTYBOB Well-Known Member

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    During our last camino, I bought euros in advance from my credit union, then when these ran out, I used my debit card (PLUS network) to withdraw from ATMs (always used BBVA kiosk) and never had a problem. For our upcoming camino, I was going to skip purchasing euros in advance and make my first withdrawal at the Madrid airport from a BBVA ATM. This thread may cause me to reconsider.

    Wily, I am also a member of AAA. How does their exchange rate seem and how are the euros purchased? I looked on line but didn't "submit". I'm wondering if the euros are charged as a bill to AAA which is sent to my AAA address, or are they charged to a normal credit card? Thanks, Bob
     
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  28. Wily

    Wily Camino Francés 2016; Camino Portugués 2017

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    Hey Bob - Euro were very easy to purchase. I simply visited my AAA office here in town and they placed an order for me. There is no commission fee or extra charge for members and I had my Euro with 48 hours. I then picked them up at the AAA office. Comparing their rate with the online currency rates at the time, they were right in line with the best rates that I could purchase for.

    Although I'm not heading back to Spain until next spring, I do have a couple other international trips coming up. Following Gerry's suggestion on the Visa Travel/Money Card, I've also picked one of these up at AAA. It seems like a reasonable back-up option to avoid problems like C4S encountered. AAA members can purchase the Visa Travel/Money Card for just $3.95. A second, companion card on the same account can be gotten for an additional $1.50. There are a couple features that I do like about it. Someone at home with my PIN and card number can add money to the card for immediate availability. As much as $1,000 can be withdrawn from it daily (although I can't imagine needed such a large amount on the Camino). Fees seemed reasonable: $3 ATM international fee, 3% foreign transaction fees on purchases. Card is replaceable if lost or stolen.

    As I've said before, I've never had a problem with my Visa Plus debit card from my bank. On two Caminos, it has worked great except at small regional Spanish and Portuguese banks. At larger banks, it works just like at home! However, I'm just looking at the Visa Travel/Money card as a Plan B type of thing. Carrying it with money pre-loaded will just give me one more layer of financial security along with carrying cash as well. Buen Camino!
     
  29. Crepes4Suzette

    Crepes4Suzette Well-Known Member

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    John, glad to hear yours is working for purchases. I'm sorry if I worried people unduly - just didn't want anyone else to be stuck in that situation. It's a small-town banking issue - the accountability seems to be lacking. You've likely crossed the Pyrenees by now - what a spectacular day! Buen Camino to you!
     
  30. Kim Federici

    Kim Federici Active Member

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    I don't think you created undue concern - I think mindfulness and cross checking in our preparations is one of the gifts that is supported on a forum or in any conversation we have that shares common experience. Your mention of your husband eye-rolling when you say you think you are "done traveling for a while" was something that made me think that one day our husbands should meet. The conversation could include cross references of our "body language" and so many other things that provide so much interest in their lives. A full bore July here in the states, a bit of work to get my side of our business in order during August and then Aug 28th I will fly out. I will visit Lourdes but will not walk the Puy segment. A train to SJPP and my journey by foot commences....Yippee!
     
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