Northern California Things to do , San Francisco things to do, Writer, Travel Writer,

The Dali Lama said, “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.”

Last July I ask for stories from people whose credit cards had been compromised while on vacation. What I got back was…nothing. Networking worked and I got one interesting story that I’ll relate below.

Each of the stories in the July post is true and I’ll share what I would do differently. If you have any additional suggestions, please comment. It is good for all of us to learn how to keep our money safe.

We spent our last night in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, eating in an intimate restaurant on the square and perusing art galleries. Owen gravitated to one oil painting of vibrant port activity rendered in the thick strokes of a palette knife. An instructor from the local university painted it, validating my husband’s initial attraction. It hangs in the hall outside our kitchen.

My purchase was a three foot, carved wooden gecko painted by an unknown Haitian artist. Its multicolored dotted pattern makes me happy every time I look at it.

The thing is, earlier, at the restaurant, the server took what seemed like 10 minutes to return our credit card when we paid the bill. It took so long that I was getting ready to get up to see where it was when he finally returned to our table with it.

When we arrived home, there was a message to call Wells Fargo Fraud center. Someone made dubious charges at the local Target at the same time we were lifting off in the airliner. We sent copies of our itinerary to prove it wasn’t us.

The second bullet in the post tells how someone charged items on our card in Campeche, Mexico. There are two kinds of merchants in Mexico and the Caribbean

  1. Those who bring the credit card terminal to your restaurant table or car window when you make a purchase.
  2. Those who don’t.

The merchants in Cancun, without fail, brought the terminal to us and processed our credit card purchases in front of us, then returned the card. However, research for this story brought up a Trip Advisor post about a gas station in Cancun near the Marriott Courtyard, where people were scammed.

On our second day in Mexico, after a major car mishap (don’t ask) we pulled into a Pemex gas station south of Cancun on the right side of the road. There was a five foot by three foot sign at the edge of the parking area that said “Please report it if you don’t like the service.” Phone numbers are at the bottom of the sign.

Pemex Sign, Please Report

Pemex Sign, Please Report. When you see this sign, proceed to the next station.

This should have been a red flag, instead it was a light pink flag. The heat was intense and our brains were almost fried from the day’s earlier adventure. The young man filled up the car and my husband handed over a credit card. The man and his pal spent several, furtive minutes behind the pump, working the credit card terminal before coming back to talk to us.  More than once a head peeked around the pump to see where we were.

The guy came back, handed the card back and said, “Your credit card isn’t working, did you tell your bank you were going to Mexico?”

Owen opened his wallet to give him cash and our gas station guy reached in and took four bills. It amounted to $40.00. Dutifully we Skyped the bank, later that day and told them we were in Mexico and they should let our charges go through. All tolled someone made 7 charges on our card before Wells Fargo, rightly shut it down.

In September of last year, a couple at a networking event told me about a Pemex gas station, south of Cancun where they stopped. He mentioned the sign and how their credit card had fraudulent charges later the same day.

“I know the exact one you mean,” I said.

What would I do differently, you ask?

At the restaurant, if the waiter doesn’t bring a credit card terminal to the table, I’ll get up immediately and follow it to the cashier.

At the gas station, if there is enough gas when I see that sign, I‘ll leave and try another down the road. If the gas gauge is sitting on empty, I’ll get off my bum and follow the credit card wherever it goes. When reputable attendants bring the credit card terminal to the window, that won’t be necessary, otherwise, off I go. I won’t send my husband after it, he’s the driver, and I’m riding shotgun.

The lesson of the third story about someone staying in their hotel room after they were gone is, always stop at the front desk and check out. This family didn’t follow this track. They think a relative of some employee stayed there for several days because he could.

Most people we dealt with in Mexico and Puerto Rico were honest, friendly and helpful. Navigating the infrastructure of a country is the adventure. Successful people take personal responsibility for their experiences. Debrief and, prepare for how you can do it better next time.

Do you have any lessons that we can learn from? I welcome your comments.

Happy trails.