Thursday, May 26, 2011

Count the Money

This is a long overdue post-note for the blog. It's now been more than a month since I got home from the trip to San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

John arrived two weeks before I left, and that first night left his debit card in the bank machine when he got money. Note to self:  Don't get money out of a machine when you're tired, especially if you're brain dead from being up almost 24 hours traveling.

Poor John.  Four or five days later, he ran out of cash and went to a cash machine to discover that the card was missing from his wallet. We hiked over to the bank where he'd gotten cash the night he arrived, and of course they knew nothing of a bank card. He immediately called Wells Fargo in the States to cancel the card. They of course wanted a password, which he didn't know, and they would not cancel the card without the password. He told them he had another debit/credit card with their bank. He gave that number and guessed (it was a three times and you're out kind of deal) correctly the third time what his 'password' was and they said, "OK, we'll cancel the card." But as Murphy will have it, they cancelled the good debit/credit card, and NOT the card that had disappeared. This was promptly discovered on our first trip to Sam's club when John attempted to get cash out of a machine in Customer Service using what he thought was his good card. I've known John a while, and he rarely gets rattled, but he was bordering on panic mode.

A long series of conversations with various Wells Fargo people ensued, and eventually he was assured two replacement cards were on their way. He even got an email verifying they'd been mailed. Ten days later, there was no delivery and a call to Wells Fargo revealed that there was no record of cards having been sent. So, another promise was made and the cards were put into the 'mail': FedX.  This time John received a tracking number and daily interactions with the FedX website showed the package arriving in Tuxtla on May 3. A week later there was still no package. By now, I had lent him money that I got from various bank machines using my own cards. But, I had also left Mexico on April 29th. Poor John was quickly running out of cash.

He could call Wells Fargo, they had a regular US phone number, but for whatever reason, his Verizon cell phone would not allow him to call a 1-800 number so he wasn't able to call FedX directly. I became the intermediary. Wells Fargo would not let him electronically transfer funds to my account because my bank is NOT Wells Fargo. So I had to establish a PayPal account so he could pay me, and I could then use Western Union to send him cash. That worked reasonably well for a couple of weeks. I quickly discovered my own card limitations. I couldn't use my debit card for more than $500 at the Western Union transfer, and they wouldn't take a check. So after the first successful transfer, I had to go to the bank for large quantities of cash, go back to the Western Union, and then arrange the transfer. Gees.

Meanwhile, I was on the phone daily with FedX in the US and he was on the phone with the FedX of Mexico. The package with his cards was somewhere in San Cristobal, in a warehouse, but no one would give him an address to go pick it up. Apparently their personnel were out delivering packages and had no 'office hours'.  Unfortunately, their personnel made no attempt to deliver the package at all. Everyday, there were notes on the website: the package had been refused (by whom?), or they couldn't find the address. I talked to the International service center several times, gave them phone numbers for John, the landlady, even the laundromat next to the landlady's hotel. I gave them the address, the cross street, even described the hotel's glass doorway and the big sign on the laundromat!!  No one from FedX ever showed up. After two weeks the package was shipped back to Mexico City. John was on the phone every day with people there, who assured him they would send it back. Two more weeks have passed. He is, today, on his way to Ajijic and then San Diego, with plenty of cash, but no bank cards. Fortunately the cards were never used by anyone, but as a precaution, John took all the money out of those accounts, and I'd be willing to bet he switches banks as soon as he hits US soil.