In Peru, tourists also often pay the price of crime

Within the first month of having arrived in Peru, her Visa card was cloned and several transactions fraudulently occurred in Lima while she was in Iquitos. Forget trying to make collect calls, forget public telephones, forget efficient telecommunication system in the Amazon. And, this was just the start of her troubles, Lauren Marchand writes. 

I spent a few years working with foreign currency and did my homework on the Peruvian Sol before arriving, aware that there were troubles with counterfeits in Peru. When I needed to withdraw funds, I always visited a bank during business hours, where I could have the bills ascertained of their authenticity by a teller. But came May 16th, 2013 when I had to use a regular ATM in Huanchaco. 

From the BBVA Continental, I took out a small amount and went to enjoy my dinner at a restaurant. It was when I attempted to pay with one of the S/.100 I had just received that the server looked at me sadly, handed my money back and told me that the bill was a counterfeit. Passing all the security features but one (that I could see after examining it), its texture wasn’t obviously different – it felt crisp and new – but I could see when holding it up to the light that the small ‘100’ in the top-left corner was slightly misaligned with its shadow. Fortunately, I had other notes and was able to pay for my meal, but left with a burning sense of embarrassment. 

The following morning, I went to the BBVA office in the Adventura Mall where I was explained that all counterfeit is delt with at a central BBVA branch in Trujillo’s centre, JR Francisco Pizarro 620. There, I met with a service manager. Copies of my passport and of the false note were taken, along with some additional information and receipt slip correlating to my transaction. I left with my copies and was told I could come back in one week’s time.

As scheduled, I came back to speak to the service manager a week later. The same desk was now occupied by a different person. I recounted my situation along with my instruction to return this day but was now being told that I must officially file my complaint by telephone. I made a fuss about not having been explained this initially. The current manager assisted me in completing this, as I discovered how difficult it would have been to complete this on my own. The call was made to the BBVA distribution office in Lima where they must initiate the investigation, referencing me with a claim number. It took over an hour to complete the phonecall.

The promised turnaround time frame for a response was 30 days. Certainly, there are opportunists who may have interest in making dishonest claims, but as a tourist, I felt I deserved the benefit of the doubt. Mislead by the previous service manager and disgruntled by the waste of a week’s time, I clung to my official claim ready to see this through. What tourist has 30 days to wait to recover their funds? Luckily, I had plenty of time.

I was to wait for response by e-mail, as it was the only mean through which BBVA could contact me. It took approximately two weeks after officially filing my complaint to receive a reply. In summary, their e-mail stated that their ‘strict security and internal control provisions could not trace the serial number of my counterfeit bill to any of their disbursment records’. Needless to say I was not satisfied by this explanation, adamant that their internal control and security weren’t sufficient to prove that the counterfeit didn’t come from their ATM – since it had.

Printing off the official response from the BBVA, I returned to the branch in Trujillo for a third time, and met with yet another manager. Once he had finished reading the answer I had received, I asked him what more could be done. I’m sure I rolled my eyes sarcastically when he explained that I could file yet another complaint. As I attempted to make my point once more, I just overheard a cashier chit-chat with his colleague saying that counterfeit had been found in their cajeros. The manager placed my form dismissively on an already large pile, saying that all would be sent to BBVA’s Centro de atención de Reclamos, in Lima, and that I would have to wait up to an additional 30 days for a response.

From a related article found in The Huaraz Telegraph’s April 2013 edition, Card Skimming in Huanchaco, by Amad al Sadi, I had read that cameras had been positioned outside the cajeros ‘should a tourist have a problem with an ATM, there would be a video clip to help identify any wrong doing’. The very least I hoped for was to have the BBVA cajero investigated for tampering, but since I wasn’t getting anywhere fast there, I decided to place an official noticia with the Huanchaco police.

I took all my copies and walked down the malecon to a group of idling police officers to ask them what I should do next. Several officers perused my papers but none of them could offer me a solid bit of advice. One officer actually suggested I’d contact my bank and my embassy to see if they could help. Knowing I was the only one who had something to lose, I took the opportunity to wax lyrical about the counterfeit problem in Peru, and how badly the problem affects the country’s economy, weakening the value of their sole, and how average people are paying for the losses when financial institutions do not take responsibility of protecting the public from the flaws of a system. Honesty doesn’t pay in Peru: the costs incurred – trying to recoup the original amount – now totalled S/.123. I asked if I would have had less trouble should I have simply tried to spend it, and the officers sadly nodded.

Only after most of the officers were bored with my gringa troubles (returning to their newspapers or other conversations) did one of them tell me that I could file a complaint with an office dedicated to consumer protection, elimination of bureaucratic barriers and unfair competition and commercial advertising called INDECOPI (Instituto Nacional Defensa de la Competencia y de la protection de la Propriedad Intelectual, the National Institute for Defense of Competition and Intellectual Property, located Calle Santo Toribio de Mogrovejo Nº 518, Urb. San Andrés II Etapa, Trujillo) and found online at www.indecopi.gob.pe. Instead of wasting soles and waiting in offices, I contacted INDECOPI through the contact found on their website, forwarding all communications between BBVA Continental and myself, along with copies in attachments, hoping to receive direction from them.

After a quick Google search on the topic of counterfeit that yielded few results, I decided to contact the administrator on an English online guide to Lima, called LimaEasy, for advice or insight on how I may advance having my complaint resolved in the only way that I saw fit: by recovering my funds. Having contacted IDECOPI and LimaEasy within the same hour on a Thursday afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised that LimaEasy answered my message in less than 24 hours.

LimaEasy, was sympathetic to my ordeal and shared my opinion of BBVA’s unprofessionalism. In addition to referring me to INDECOPI, LimaEasy supplied me with the information for SBS, La Superintendencia de Bancos, Seguros y AFP (Superintendancy of Banking, Insurance and Pensions). SBS, found at www.sbs.gob.pe, is a public institution responsible for the regulations and supervision of financial systems, insurance and private pensions, as well as prevention and detection of money laundering and terrorist funding. I intended to have every possible responsible body take part in my plight. In the very least, I hoped that the trouble I was causing would spark a change for the best, even if it only meant increased security at the ATMs in Huanchaco.

I have resigned into accepting that it is unlikely I’ll ever be reimbursed for the loss of my S/.100. In an effort to further publicise the issue, I am considering conducting a public survey in front of the cajeros of Huanchaco, to collect enough complaints from those who have received counterfeit banknotes. Also, I hope to inform potential customers of the BBVA Continental Cajero # 271 of the risk in paying for an untrustworthy service, where BBVA will not be found accountable.

Lauren Marchand

 

One Response to “In Peru, tourists also often pay the price of crime” Subscribe

  1. K. Michael VerKamp July 9, 2013 at 09:48 #

    Hi Laura,

    We always advise our visitors (I run WindAid.org) to use bank machines, just like you did – for the same reasons you highlight.

    Interestingly, we had the SAME problem with Scotiabank… and the SAME result. Institutional bureaucracy, and in the end, the same response (impossible this could happen at our bank).

    It is unfortunate, but deeply ingrained in the culture is a “it’s not my fault” attitude, generally followed by a “it’s (therefore” not my problem”.

    I’ve been here for seven years now – so I’ve found enough great things about Peru to keep me overcoming the challenges… but there are times that I want to shake the whole country like a tree, hoping the bad fruit falls out.

    I’ve found the best approach, when things go wrong, is remembering that things go wrong everywhere. It might not be the exact same situation, but all you can do is right off your losses, and focus on all the great experiences you can have here.

    Wishing you all the best… Michael

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