Monday, January 18, 2010

My First Major Problem in Kiev

On my first Saturday night in Kiev my debit card disappeared. My partners in crime for that evening's adventuring and I felt it was likely that the card had been sucked up by the ATM machine I had visited at the beginning of the evening. But I could not be certain because I did not recall losing it in there. (For the record, I was stone-cold sober.)

In Ukraine, Bank of America can't help you. I remember TV ads telling stories of vacationers who lose their card, but happily a replacement card arrives right away and the vacationing couple party on. The reality is a lot uglier, and over a week after I lost my card I still don't have a replacement. Consider that Bank of America claims that a replacement card can be sent between 4 and 16 days. That's not a practical range.

How do you get cash without your debit card? Your checkbook will be of no use. When I went through the process of using Western Union I was refused at the end. Lauren suspects that Ukraine is probably a "blacklisted" country for money wire transfers from the U.S. due to fraud problems in Ukraine. So, I could not even send money from my credit card to myself in Ukraine via Western Union.

Another credit card could work in an ATM, but you need the pin number for the other card, and I have no idea what my "regular" credit card's pin number is. If you call Bank of America in order to get that information they will tell you they don't have it ("even we can't see your pin--for security reasons"). The pin cannot be emailed, nor is it retrievable via your own personal Bank of America page. The only way to get your pin is to have it mailed to you. And I'm in Ukraine with no fixed address.

One Bank of America person I spoke with told me I could call a certain number and reset my pin without knowing my previous pin. She tried connecting me to that phone number, and then got back to me telling me that the number was out of service. Even she was puzzled by that. She gave the number to me to call myself and I called it several times, always getting that same out of service message. Another dead end.

Bank of America debit card services are there for you, except on Sunday, and also on Monday when it is a holiday, which it is today. Emergency card services are there 24/7, but all they're going to be able to do is cancel the card, which is not in your interest when you think the card is in a Ukrainian ATM and you hope to continue to use it.

The Art of Haggling with a Ukrainian Bank That May or May Not Have Your Debit Card

On Monday morning, just as the bank opened, Natasha, who works at the hostel, and I went to the bank. Natasha did all the talking, and I passively watched. We were told that my bank needed to send a physical letter to them proving my identity and ownership of that card. Ridiculous as that was, that just seemed to be it, and so we left with a Ukrainian-language form I needed to fill out.

Lauren, who is made of tougher stuff, immediately said this wasn't right, and that I needed to fight more. So she and I went back to the bank twenty minutes later, demanded to speak to somebody who knew English, and went to work.

The downstairs of the Piraeus bank is staffed exclusively by beautiful, thin, young women. Only one of them, Natalya, speaks English decently.

Natalya explained that to return a card my bank would have to write them a letter which included my name, my passport number, the card number, and was signed. In addition to an electronic version a physical version would also have to be mailed to the bank.

So we argued a lot about that, and tried to explain that in America no bank has our passport number, so there's no way my bank could include that in a letter. But more importantly, I was still not 100% sure that they even had my debit card. You would think a simple question would get a simple answer, but here's how the conversation went:

Do you have my card?

"Fill out this form," Natalya replied.

But do you even have my card? I don't want to fill out a form if I don't even know if you have my card.

"On this line, put your name and surname."

And my card? Do you have it?

"Your passport number here, please."

And so on.

Lauren then told her that if they did not have my card we needed to know that, because I'd definitely want to cancel it, then. She concluded this with:

So. Do. You. Have. The. Card?

"Yes," Natalya relented.

And this was sort of a relief; now I knew the card was not lying on a street somewhere in Kiev. On the other hand, Natalya still insisted that we get a letter from my bank proving I am the owner of the card.

Consider this: my debit card is my property from my bank. It was lost in some other bank's ATM. The other bank decides to take my card away from me and refuses to give it back to me when I ask for it. I have my passport, social security card--every single means of proving identification known to (an American) man, but they still won't give it back. How is this not outright thievery?

So then, again at Lauren's encouragement, I decided I needed to go head-to-head with the Branch Manager. This has resulted in two more appearances at the bank today, both times only to find the Branch Manager was not in. You can imagine how thrilled the young women on the first floor of the Piraeus Bank were when I made my fourth appearance today.

I try again tomorrow.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Everything was done according to the law of Ukraine. I work in a bank in Ukraine and I know very well all the procedures.

  3. Tanya, thank you. As a foreigner, I only had the advice of friends to rely on, and (as we all know), the advice of friends is not always the best.

    This was all a long time ago, now, so the emotions have faded. The situation was eventually solved. Let it be known for the record that my own bank made many mistakes, whereas the Ukrainian bank, while perhaps not being much help to me, at least seemed to follow procedure.

    I loved Kiev despite the setback; and I hope to visit again soon. Perhaps we can meet and discuss banking. The drinks are on me. On my bank card! ;-)