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- “The Bank Stole My Money in Latin America!”
Some odd years ago, I was in a Chedraui supermarket in Mexico City.
During that time, I happened to be living by Cuatro Caminos areas of the city in which you can read more about my time here and here.
Anyhow, I had everything in my cart while standing in line…
A shit ton of black tea bags.
A handful of liquor.
A lot of groceries.
And, if I remember right, this was the day that I began working out from home because I remember having some VERY basic weights that the supermarket had on sale.
So a handful of stuff!
Of course, when it came to the weights, the American in me found it all very confusing.
Mostly because they had different weights for sale but they were all weighted in KG instead of pounds.
So, without a phone on hand, I had to wait around for some employee to come by to assist me in making a decision after pressing a button alerting someone in the building that assistance is needed.
Which, in of itself, is another memorable difference.
In the US, it’s relatively easy to find an employee to assist you.
In Mexico City at least (and other parts of Latin America), I’d say it’s relatively more common to find less employees in the building to help you.
So while, on some days, you might find someone to help you quickly enough…
On other days, like in this incident, you have to basically stand around with your dick in your hand until someone stops by.
Anyhow, an employee did eventually make her way around and I had her take out her phone to do the conversion from KG to pounds.
Once I knew what to buy, I got into line and there happened to be a woman that insisted that I sign up for a local bank account.
To which I remember explaining to her that I’m obviously not a citizen nor a resident of Mexico in that time and I wasn’t sure I could get approved for a bank account anyhow.
In fact, to this day, I have no idea what the requirements are because I never had a bank account down here in Mexico or anywhere in Latin America.
Something to keep in mind as I go through this article to be fair…
Anyhow, despite that detail, she insisted that I take her card and “work things out with her” if I ever decide to give her a call.
She seemed fairly insistent on having me open a bank account with her company.
Unfortunately for her, I never got around to it.
Especially because, in those days, I simply didn’t have any money.
If I had to guess, I might’ve had maybe 200 bucks in my bank account on that specific afternoon when she asked me to sign up.
But, being honest, even if I had money, I’m not sure I would sign up for a local bank account down here.
Especially if I’m not a resident!
Again, I’m not sure if not being a resident is a big deal with having an account or not.
But I’d imagine it would be given that, on a tourist visa, I technically don’t have the legal right to actually live here.
So it all seems confusing to me how she thought that I could have the bank account.
Anyhow, even if I were to have the legal right nowadays, I’d still be cautious in opening a bank account in most countries in this region.
The first reason being is that it isn’t necessary!
And that’s the largest reason.
Simply put, I’m happy with my bank in the US.
When I visit the US again, I do intend to get another bank card for reasons I explained in this article here.
But it’d be an American one.
However, on the flip side, I get why someone would open a local bank account down here.
The main reason, at least from my perspective, is to simply have a bank account outside of the US system with some back up cash in whatever country you live in.
Would be especially useful for circumstances in which your banks from back home are having issues.
You wouldn’t have to risk much either – just put a reasonable but not crazy amount in the thing.
And, on top of that, putting money into a local bank account can, from what I’ve read only, help you gain residency in certain countries like Paraguay as you can read here to Panama as you can read here.
So there are definitely benefits!
And, in the case where I do finally get residency in a Latin American country, I would open a local bank account for those reasons most likely…
But I wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable putting too much money into a local bank account in some countries down here.
And I emphasize some countries…
Because I get every country is different down here and regulations and consumer protections vary from country to country.
So, some countries, perhaps one like Uruguay, might have better protections and enforcement in place for the consumer.
To be honest, I have no idea how true that is as it’s an assumption based solely on the fact that I know a country like Uruguay is relatively nicer than most Latin countries for standard of living and all that.
And that all goes back to, as I implied before, my hesitancy to put too much money into a local bank account down here.
It’s a topic nonetheless….
Being the relative lack of security for bank accounts down here compared to those in a country like the US.
Which, to emphasize, doesn’t mean that the US is perfect by any means.
But, if we are being fair despite the insecurity of the locals and white knight gringos, it does mean that there are some fucked up cases of gringos and locals getting fucked over by the local banks in Latin America from time to time.
Which is a topic worthy of discussion for foreigners looking to live in Latin America.
For entertainment sake, let's look at some fucked up examples of banks fucking over their clients down here.
Which, again, doesn’t mean dumb shit doesn’t happen in a country like the US.
But this article is simply “food for thought” so to speak for the aspiring expat or someone already living down here who is thinking of opening a local bank account.
Perhaps on a boring day in Chedraui in Mexico City in which a nice lady is insisting on you doing so…
Well, should you?
Your decision only!
And while most folks seem to do so without any issue…
Let's at least look at some of the risk that could be involved.
“The ATM Ate My Card!”
OK, so the first example of bank fuckery will be something simple and not too bad compared to some other shit we’ll get into a second.
Take a look at these screenshots here of foreigners complaining about the ATM machine eating their cards down here in Mexico City.
Have I ever had a moment like this over my 4 years in Mexico City or 6 years total in Latin America?
But I have had moments where I did think that the ATM machine was going to fuck me over.
For example, when I lived in Roma Norte of Mexico City about 5 months ago, I remember one of the last times I withdrew money over there.
I was on Durango street and went to the ATM machine that is basically right outside the apartment where I lived.
I don’t remember which bank it was because it was some obscure bank that I never see a branch of anywhere else.
A bank anyway that I’ve never noticed anyhow.
Still, I never had issues with this ATM before.
And I needed to withdraw maybe 400 bucks to cover the first month’s rent and the deposit of the place where I live right now in Copilco area.
So when I entered the amount, it simply didn’t do anything.
No sound of money being counted.
And I probably stood there for 10 minutes literally with some bald Mexican guy asking if “it is working?”
To which I told him the problem and he walked away.
And, worse of all, there was nobody inside the building of the bank that I would even be able to go to for help.
In the moment, I wasn’t sure what I would do – should I get a cop?
I have no idea who to ask for help from.
I want my fucking card back and my money.
Thankfully, the money did come and I did get my card.
And I’ve had other moments like that….
At least three others that come to mind.
Similarly, when I was in Roma Norte again many months before the previously mentioned incident, I was in a Santander ATM building.
Like the first incident, I had to wait a longer time than normal.
And, actually, outside of waiting, I remember in that exact same building being told that the money was provided by the machine but no money came out.
I’ve had that happen also in other areas.
Which, for obvious reasons, made me worried that I was going to be charged for money that I never withdrew.
Thankfully, after any incident where that happened, I always checked my bank balance and it never deducted the imaginary money that the machine told me it printed.
And, funny enough, in that exact same Santander ATM machine building, I do remember years ago getting my card eaten.
I was with my last girlfriend at the time so this must’ve been before I moved to a Mexican city called Pachuca.
Anyhow, we went into the building with all the employees and they gave me the card back without incident.
So, while some bank officials are dickheads who won’t return the money or the card like in the screenshots above, others are normal.
Maybe I should stop withdrawing money from that specific Santander machine…
Anyhow, the only other incident where I got a “scare” by having to wait like 10 minutes was at a BBVA machine in Ajusco area of Mexico City.
Well, this is the lightest of crimes when it comes to bank fuckery in Latin America for the average individual.
Stealing our debit cards and maybe pocketing some extra cash from us.
Let’s get into some worse examples now.
“The Bank Stole My Money in Mexico!”
Next, we have cases where the banks down here literally stole money from someone’s account.
This is something that, every once in a blue moon, gets posted on Facebook in any of the Mexican groups that I am in.
Be it the group for foreigners living in Mexico City in which a foreigner is complaining about this…
Or a group to rent out apartments in Mexico and some local Mexican wants to warn everyone about how they had money stolen from their bank account.
To which people in the foreigner group might be supportive but a few might get defensive and go “tHiS hApPeNs EvErYwHeRe BrO!!!”
You know, one of those gringos who can’t stand the idea of another foreigner saying anything negative about a country down here.
Maybe it makes them feel insecure about their choice to move down here or maybe it’s to be “politically correct” by whatever standard they use to define that…
Or whatever else!
But you will get some folks in the foreigner group mentioning how it happened to them also.
And, in the Mexican group, nobody is insecure and tons of people say that the same thing has happened to them.
In which some sum of money, large or small, gets taken out of their account for whatever reason.
Where did it go?
The pockets of someone else inside the bank most likely.
Now, to be fair, it’s not just Mexico where this happens….
“The Bank Stole My Money in Colombia!”
There’s a good article online about how some foreigner basically had the same issue as the guy above in Mexico.
Except, in this case, it was in Colombia.
Specifically, I think it was in Bogota.
If anyone can find the article, let me know because I searched for it for a while.
I know I cited it elsewhere on my website so I’ll keep looking.
At any rate, until I can find that story again, here’s a interesting thread about the same thing in which foreigners find themselves having money taken out of their local bank accounts in Colombia.
Now, to be fair, it isn’t as clear in the stories mentioned in the link above if money is purposefully be taken out of their bank accounts by some insider…
Or if it is simply a technical issue with the ATM machines.
Like my experience with the Santander ATM machine in which I was told money was provided but I got nothing.
Thankfully, in my case, no such money was actually taken out of my ATM machine.
At any rate, some in the thread cited above believe that part of the risk comes from using a foreign bank card to withdraw money at a local ATM machine down here.
The idea being that a foreign bank card is more likely to be scammed somehow by the bank by being able to detect it is foreign and choosing to scam the user somehow in that circumstance.
Not sure I buy that entirely but, regardless of it the stories provided in that thread are examples of a scam or technical failure, it’s another example anyhow of foreigners having issues with banking down here.
And, as I said, there have been other stories I have found or simply heard about regarding banks in Colombia not having the best practices.
Still, let’s move onto a much larger example that involves millions of dollars.
Back to Mexico!
40 Million Dollars Stolen in San Miguel de Allende
Finally, we have this infamous story where an entire community of expats had their money stolen at a bank in San Miguel de Allende.
The bank involved being Banco Monex.
In which over 40 million USD was stolen out of 150 bank accounts that belonged to almost entirely foreigners and a few Mexicans.
Interesting story, in this article here, many of the victims didn’t want to be identified for the story out of fear for their safety or repercussions from the bank as they search to get their money back.
And while some are taking their legal challenge all the way to hopefully get every cent back…
Others have settled for 50 cents on the dollar for what they lost.
On the flip side, the bank involved claims that many of the disputes have been resolved and that the amount stolen was much less than 40 million dollars.
Obviously, the victims involved disagree with those numbers.
At any rate, the larger idea here is that there was some ponzi scheme going on in which funds from one account were moved to cover the losses of theft on another.
Among other forms of fraud that were used to steal from the victims, including things like forgery, unauthorized transfers, unauthorized changes to names on accounts, unauthorized changes to emails and passwords associated with accounts and much more.
Now, as I said, if you want more to the story, check it out here again.
And speaking of banks failing to protect millions of dollars belonging to their clients…
Argentina Sanctions Latin Banks
In this case, we actually have an example of banks not necessarily committing fraud but simply failing to put in proper protocol to protect their clients.
In this article here, it explains how Argentina has sanctioned BBVA and Santander 10 million dollars for failing to properly protect their users from fraud and scams.
in which they weren’t doing their job at protecting user information and their bank accounts.
And that’s the basic sum of that article.
The Colombian Teacher Who Lost His Money
Next, we have a case I wrote about here before where some guy who is a teacher in Colombia claims to have his money stolen in the city of Cartagena.
Where basically some girls drugged him with scopolamine and then managed 17 different transactions within 2 hours that robbed him of 60 million Colombian pesos or 15,000 USD.
Now, from what I could gather and from what others have said in the comment section of his video here, it is the belief by some that the bank might have been involved in on it.
An inside job?
But, based on his story, it does make you think that there were others involved outside of just these two gals.
Concerning the bank, you can at least say that there was obvious lack of protections given that they could do 17 transactions in 2 hours for 15,000 USD.
I definitely couldn’t do that even with my US bank card.
So, if I was being generous, maybe it’s just an example of bank incompetence.
Or, being honest, it definitely seems like it could’ve been where someone at the bank was somehow involved.
Anyway, those were just a few of the examples that I could find.
There were others I could’ve brought up in other countries.
Most of the stories though don’t imply any inside job by the bank to fuck over its users to be fair.
Though, even if there’s no malicious intent by people inside the bank, it wasn’t uncommon to see plenty of examples where banks in various countries down here simply don’t put in place the proper protocol and protections to secure the money of their clients
All the while implying that it’d be easier for someone to hack your account and steal your money from a typical local bank down here.
And, on top of that, I’m sure though that there’s plenty of people who do have local bank accounts down here and have no issue whatsoever.
It simply needs to be said that, once in a blue moon, there does appear to be examples of people inside the bank fucking you over because you’re a foreigner and perhaps an easier target?
And that a typical bank account down here is maybe riskier than one back home due to the weaker protections provided.
Though, to be fair, that isn’t to say that banks from back home don’t do fucked up shit.
Like the infamous 2008 financial crisis and all the shit that came with that....
Still, for me personally, I trust my own bank in the US more than any typical bank where I live now in Mexico.
Mostly because I’ve had a great experience with them overall and they’ve always resolved any issues I’ve had easy enough.
Either way, when it comes to talking about banks in Latin America, it obviously varies by country.
For example, on a brief Google search, I couldn’t find anything too malicious about banks in Chile or Uruguay.
Granted, I did see some stories of people reporting having been scammed by some cyber thief even in Chile.
But, overall, those two countries did look a little bit better to me.
When it comes to Brazil?
Another super star in Latin America…
Well, to be fair, I don’t read Portuguese very well so I didn’t look at scams there.
Anyway, as I always say, geography matters when it comes to talking about broad issues across Latin America.
Even when it comes to the security of the banking system for individuals.
So having said all of that….
Is it cool to have a bank account in Latin America?
Well, being honest, I wouldn’t trust a local bank in most of Latin America to not fuck me over somehow.
Even if most folks claim to walk away without issues.
Especially as, over the years, I’ve seen simply too many stories of locals and gringos getting fucked over.
Not just the gringos!
And, given the lack of legal ability to fight back, I know that, like in the stories above, I could get fucked over and do relatively little to resolve any issues if a bank or someone at a bank wanted to fuck me over.
However, as I said, I do see benefits with having a local bank account.
Be it for residency purposes in certain countries down here and also to simply have a little bit of side change available in a local bank account in times of emergency.
A sum of money that doesn’t mean too much but could be stretched out nicely over a few months down here in Latin America….
Like 2,000 bucks more or less.
Anyhow, that’s all I got to say.
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Thanks for reading.