For what is the crime of burglarizing a bank, compared with the crime of building one?"
Rule Number One: The House Always Wins.
OK, here's the thing: As most expats who retire in Costa Rica learn, sooner or later, there is no easy way to ensure that we can receive the money from our pensions or other income when we live here. I (quite possibly due to serious naiveté on my part), used to believe that this was mostly due to international banking laws that prevented easy bank to bank transactions. For ourselves, we decided to open an account in our local branch of BNCR some years before we actually moved here. This was handy, and – at the time – it was not too difficult to do.
After obtaining our cedulas (legal residence) we knew it was also a good idea to have a banking presence here to (if nothing else) more easily prove to the Costa Rican Immigration people that we were indeed bringing in the minimum required amount of dollars each month. When we applied for pensionado status the requirement was that we change at least six hundred Dollars per month into Colones. That amount is almost laughable now, when you consider that our electric bill for the month of January was already in excess of $400.00 (and, no, we do not have the air conditioning running; haven't used it for more than a year)! Yes, that's right – over $400.00 in one month's time! And, we really don't know why this has happened, but we had become used to paying over $200.00 per month. Oh well, that's another story and will no doubt be related at a later point in time.
I started out here to relate a really crappy occurrence that has caused us a certain amount of harm, a lot of discomfort, and tremendous inconvenience. But, I'm still setting this up so that you can understand what happened (God knows why). After we arrived here, I had to figure out a way that would be most economical while being the least wasteful of time. After all, we do have monthly obligations/bills to pay. After a certain amount of trial and error, here is what I had become accustomed to doing each and every month:
First, a couple of years before we moved, I opened an account with a bank in the states that allowed me to have our pensions and social security deposited directly, provided me with a way to pay bills online, and reimbursed me for any and all ATM charges worldwide. Sounds good, right? At first, after moving here, I would go into the local bank, present my Debit card to a teller, and ask to have $1500.00dlls moved from my American Bank to my checking account at BNCR. There was a fee (1.75% of the total?) for this, but I guess I didn't really pay attention to that, as I was thinking about convenience. Then, at the end of our first year here, I received notice from my American Bank that Visa had set new, lower limits on the use of their debit cards. The new limits were set at $1,000.00 per transaction, and per day, where the limits used to be $1500.00.
This had the immediate effect of telling me that the sort of movement I had been doing was too costly (yeah, yeah; I know; it was already too costly). So, I tried to think of an alternative. Here is what I came up with, after thinking about it. I decided to hit the ATM (right outside the front door of the bank, after all) as many times as it would take to hit my daily limit, as many days as it took to meet my local needs for one month. I found out, by trial and error, that I could get up to ¢200,000.00Colones per transaction, with no fee charged by either my American Bank, or BNCR! So, I then asked for that amount, got it, and then immediately fed my card back into the machine, and got another like amount, and then, decided to press my luck, and did it a third time. This worked! Then, I took the cash inside and deposited it to my BNCR account. So, this meant that I could make one trip to the bank each month, and get enough money to cover my needs, without paying that local fee, and at the same time get around that daily limit imposed by Visa.
So, this became my routine. Up until March 1, that is. When I put my card in for my first of three transactions, I got all the way up to completing the confirmation of the amount of cash that I wanted, then a message popped up on screen saying that the ATM had lost contact with the Central Computer. I did get my card back, thinking that the first transaction was a no-go, so I then tried to do my normal three quick transactions. I only got receipts and cash on two out of the three, and on that third attempt I saw the message saying that "that's all, folks," indicating that I had reached my daily limit.
So, worried that maybe my U. S. bank had paid, but not me, I immediately went into the local bank to report this, and to ask for their assistance in recovering (if necessary) my money. (Time out for a little aside here):
Now, here may be where I got off on the wrong foot, but I'm not sure. My thinking went like this:
- I May have a problem with an ATM.
- Said ATM belongs to BNCR (says so right on the maquina, and all around it, and even outside the little booth).
- Said ATM lost connection once. Paid out and printed those little receipts only twice, even though I completed – on my end – the steps for a third pay out.
- Just to be very clear here, their ATM did not dispense money or receipt on one out of three attempts.
- It is my money. It is their ATM. It is their responsibility. (Sound reasonable? I thought so).
- Their responsibility so they (BNCR) owe me that money.
- It is their ATM, so they have to have access to it and to its records.
- It is their ATM, so their camera will show that I inserted my card and my info three times, but only got paid twice.
- I only have two receipts showing that I only got money twice.
- Their records should immediately show that I did not get my money. Or, at worst, at the close of business that day, they should easily see that they have got more money than they should have, right?
Well, I guess I was wrong on all counts. The young man at the 'information' desk told me that there was nothing that the bank could do since I was using an international debit card. This was strictly an electronic transaction between two banks, and this local branch (which accesses the ATM from within the bank, by the way) cannot access the ATM records. He said I had to contact my bank (in the states) and report the incident to them, and then wait for them to submit a claim to BNCR. He did say that I could talk to the Branch Manager if I wanted, but he knew that there was nothing that could be done.
I figured that this should be a relatively simple thing, quickly resolved, so I came home and got on Skype to call my U. S. Bank. The young lady in Phoenix to whom I spoke said, "No problem. I will credit your account."
Next day, I checked my bank online and found nothing had been done, so along with my wife, I returned to BNCR. This time we did ask to talk to the Manager, who told us essentially the same crap the guy had told me the day before. The transaction involved an international card, was strictly electronic in nature, they could not access their own ATM's records, and they could not do anything until they received a claim from my U. S. Bank.
When I called my U. S. Bank that day I was given information that differed significantly from what the lady had told me the day before. Now, I learned that the Bank had turned my call into a dispute that had been referred to the Dispute Resolution Team, who now had ten working days to review my complaint and decide what action to take. Then, it would take who knows how many more days for any resolution of my dispute!
So, we gave them six or seven (working) days, and returned to BNCR yesterday, after seeing online that we are still missing that money. Again, we were stonewalled, as we learned that the person in the local branch, to whom we witnessed the Manager assign this for follow up was not only not present, but had done nothing by way of follow up. The Manager did take the time yesterday to place several calls to various people at the main bank in San Jose, spent a lot of time on her computer, but ultimately told us we still have to wait for our U. S. Bank to submit a claim.
According to her, BNCR cannot check their ATM records for any overage until and unless they receive a claim. I am sorry to be so dense and so obtuse, but I cannot understand how this could be. I used to be a bookkeeper many, many years ago. So was my wife. We both recall how the books/accounts had to balance each and every day, one way or another or they could not be closed! So, I guess this means that BNCR does not really care from day to day whether or not their accounts are in order. I wonder what they would do if I had somehow managed to abscond with this much of their money?
Do you suppose they would let me tell them that they must submit a claim, and then wait while I process their claim? Do you suppose they would wait for me to make up stories to justify my dragging my feet? Do you suppose they would let me give them their money whenever I felt like it, without gouging me with late charges, interest, and handling fees? But, wait. Since it is their ATM there is no way it is ever going to pay out more than I ask for (remember rule number one?) is there? I mean, there ain't no way an error in my favor is ever going to happen!
Ultimately, my U. S. bank did make a provisional credit to my account, as of March 10. That did not become permanent, however, until the end of the month. As far as I know, they are still waiting for BNCR to give the money back to them.