Sunday, February 04, 2007

Credit cards & cash machines - a warning.

Your money is safe with us.

Recently, a visitor to Morocco was left stranded when her credit card was swallowed by a machine. The woman, an Arab-American, said she had to cut down on her spending during a visit to Morocco after a local ATM swallowed her Emirates Bank card. Now that is bad enough, but her bank was slow to issue her a new card on her return to the UAE.

When the 25-year-old tried an ATM for the first time in Morocco, the machine rejected her card and told her to contact her bank. When she tried an ATM at a second bank her card was retained. "This has never happened to me before when I have used my card internationally. It's sheer stupidity or bad luck," she said. But is it?

Stupidity? Bad Luck?

From personal experience The View from Fez can report that on several occasions we have had far worse experiences with Moroccan ATMs. To be fair, it is two particular ATMs, but both have consistently rejected our card while at the same time, removing money from the account.

One might imagine that ATM technology might stuff up from time to time, but in the case of the two banks in R'Cif, the removal of money from the account happened several times. The machine would flash up the message that it could not complete the transaction, and return the card. Yet several thousand dirhams would have been withdrawn.

Fraud or Failure?

So is this simply a computer malfunction? It would seem not. The last time one of these machines tried to withdraw money we had been out of the country for two months and the card had been destroyed.

The next problem is attempting to claim your money back. In the case of the two banks in R'cif, even when we took a bank employee onto the street and showed him the entire transaction, he refused to acknowledge the problem "Your problem is with your bank in Australia," was the standard answer. Hardly.

By the time the banks had consumed almost 20,000 dirhams we went and confronted the bank manager who became extremely flustered and angry at the suggestion that maybe someone inside the bank had developed a scam. "You must ask your bank in Australia," he said.

So, back in Australia we asked our bank. The Visa card investigation unit swung into gear and after three frustrating months reported that they could get no response from the Moroccan banks other than a curt statement saying that "The problem is in Australia." Luckily, the bank in Australia is a cooperative credit union and after the failed Visa investigation, decided to repay us the money themselves. Not everyone is so lucky.

So a word of warning. If you are going to use an ATM in Morocco, use them at major banks in the main cities. Suburban branches like R'cif - avoid like the plague!

And the woman from the UAE?

She said when she initially contacted Emirates Bank, she was told their system was down and she should call back later.

"I said: 'I'm overseas, I'm cashless. Can you call me back?' But they replied that they didn't do international calls," she said.

She said she was eventually told there had been an "operational error" that had affected several people.

The bank said she could get a replacement card by faxing written authorisation for a friend to collect the new card in the UAE before sending it to Morocco.

However, by the time the replacement card would have arrived in Morocco, she would have left the country.

She did not have access to her cash when she visited the UK for four days on her way back to the UAE.

And once she finally arrived back in Dubai, the problems continued. "I went to the bank here and they said the [replacement] card should have been ordered, but hadn't been. Someone went on leave so the order didn't go through.

"I remained cashless and I had to cancel a doctor's appointment because I couldn't pay for it. Customer service has been very minimal," she said.

In a statement, Emirates Bank said it takes account security "very seriously" and implemented "strict security measures that could occasionally cause inconvenience".

The company said on January 21, the date the customer tried to use her card in Morocco, the bank received an alert that some cards could have been targeted by fraudsters outside the UAE.

"Urgent action was required, these cards were immediately blocked in a preventive security measure and affected card holders were contacted and informed. Customers who couldn't be reached, due to reasons outside our control (traveling, phones out of reach etc) might have experienced a delay in getting their cards replaced," the statement said.

The bank apologized for the inconvenience caused.

"All preventive action is undertaken in all good faith to protect their assets in keeping with our promise to best serve their interests," the bank said. Oh sure.

(courtesy of Morocco Time)

  • 1. Never use an ATM at a bank that’s not open.

  • 2. Have a “buffer” bank account. By that, I mean have a second checking or savings account for use overseas, not tied to your main account by overdraft protection or anything similar. When you need money, transfer funds into it from your main account. That way, if your debt card or account number is compromised, there is minimal damage, and you can cancel the account without completely inconveniencing yourself.

  • 3. Don’t waste your time trying to be friendly when the situation involves your money. Be polite but firm.


    Visa and Mastercard are accepted at most ATMs for cash advances, but remember credit cards are not accepted at a lot of smaller shops. The maximum amount you can withdraw is usually 4000 dirhams which is around 370 Euro, 460 USD or 230 British pounds.

    You can search for Visa locations here: Visa Search
    You can search for Mastercard here: Mastercard Search

    Dinners Club and American Express are hardly ever accepted. If you have American Express you can find agents at Schwartz Voyages offices.

    Executive Office: 197, Bd.Zerktouni, Angle Rue d'Avignon, 7ème étage - Casablanca
    Tel: (212) 22 36 73 30
    Fax: (212) 22 36 72 84

    Head Office : C/O Hôtel Intercontinental - Parc brooks- Tanger
    Tel: (212) 39 93 60 28
    Fax: (212) 39 93 01 59

    Branch Office : 112 Av. Prince Abdellah - Casablanca
    Tel: (212) 22 36 73 30
    Fax: (212) 22 36 72 84

    Branch Office : 54, Bld Pasteur - Tanger
    Tel: (212) 39 93 60 28
    Fax: (212) 39 93 01 59

    Branch Office : 1, Rue Mauritania - Imm.Moutawakil - Marrakech
    Tel: (212) 44 43 74 69
    Fax: (212) 44 43 74 69



    Anonymous said...

    Well, to be frank, the accusation of fraud was completely baseless, and the manager had every reason to be annoyed.

    What was happening was a system error in the network between the Moroccan backbone and the overseas payment processor. There are a number of ways this can happen, but the bank staff certainly don't have the access to manipulate from branches.

    Simon said...

    We have to be careful while doing any transactions. It is important to know more information on ATM scams and how to protect our self from bank card crimes. Thanks for sharing..

    BuJ said...

    Hi there.. great post. I am visiting Faas (Fez) next month. I'm coming from the Emirates and I hope I don't get into trouble in Morocco :)

    I guess I cannot exchange dirhams from Dubai and I have to get MAD's in Morocco instead.

    Still, I am very excited and this is my first time to morocco.. I'm sure it won't be the last :)

    great post.. allah ye7fathk.

    Anonymous said...

    Important post, thank you

    Unknown said...

    I'm trying to investigate potential ATM fraud from a recent visit to Morocco. My bank lists ATM6100 0210610010 Casablanca as the details for the cash withdrawal, but I was in Marrakech on the day in question and withdrew from a Marrakech ATM. Anyone have any ideas on what ATM6100 or the long number might mean?

    Unknown said...

    I have been to Morocco many times. The best way to get money from ATM is to have M/C Cirrus debit card. Or, use cash!