ATM dogs

Louise inserted her card, selected English, and requested a cash withdrawal. The ATM made satisfying mechanical noises, then a message appeared on the screen. “We apologize,” it said. “Your bank has requested that we retain your card.” The screen went blank. No cash. No card. We have a month to go in France.

Some background is required: We each have two bank accounts, personal and joint. We use the joint account to pay family expenses. We transfer money into that account from our personal accounts when it’s needed. The personal accounts are used for, well, personal stuff: motorcycles for me, clothes (and shoes!) for her. We monitor our various accounts online, to verify that nothing nefarious is going on.

Louise does her personal banking with Umpqua Bank. I use Key Bank for that, a holdover from years past. Umpqua provides our joint account.

Soon after we arrived in France, a notification appeared when we logged on to our joint account. “Watch for it! A new and improved online banking experience, coming soon to Umpqua Bank.” It’s not an uncommon message: websites (and apps) are being refreshed all the time.

A few weeks later, when I tried to log on to Umpqua using my tablet, a screen appeared. “Welcome to Umpqua Bank’s new and improved banking experience,” it said. “You will need to change your password, and to do that we will send a text message to your phone containing an access key. Check your messages and use that key to continue. If you’re unable to receive text messages, call us.” An 800 number was available.

We’re in backwater France. There is no cell phone coverage here. No texts; no phone calls. My tablet was locked out.

No problem. I brought out my computer, which continued to display the old web page, and all was well. I did my business, sent an email to Umpqua, telling them that the new and improved banking experience wasn’t new and improved for those of us without phones in backwater France. Could they help?

There was no reply.

A few days after that, the new and improved banking experience appeared on the computer’s web page, again describing the password-change, text-message procedure. I sent another email.

There was no reply.

We couldn’t access our account online. What was the balance? Would it cover the rent? Would we be homeless? Would we starve?

In desperation, we visited a neighbor’s house. Backwater or not, the neighbor had a phone, and graciously, she agreed to let us use it. We called the 800 number. “We’re sorry. Due to an increased amount of telephone traffic, we’re unable to take your call. Please leave your number and we’ll call you back.” We left the neighbor’s number—a French number of course—and waited a couple of hours for a call back. After too much wine and cheese—the French love their wine and cheese—and not wanting to overstay our welcome, we came home.

To this day there has been no return call. Or email.

Meanwhile, Louise ran off to Paris to shop. She stopped by an ATM machine there, hoping to retrieve our balance. She inserted our joint debit card, but retrieving our balance wasn’t an option. She pressed Cancel. The machine made satisfying mechanical noises, our card appeared in the slot, and a message appeared on the screen. “Please take your card,” it said.

Louise has long fingernails. Very little card protruded. She tried to grasp it, but her fingernails slipped and the card wouldn’t budge. “You have twenty more seconds. Please take your card.”

Twenty seconds later, the machine made some very unsatisfying mechanical noises, and the card was gone.

She went inside the bank and talked to a manager: “We’re sorry, but since we didn’t issue the card, we must send it back to the issuing bank.”

Curiouser and curiouser.

Fortunately I have a friend at Umpqua. I emailed her, we were granted online access to our account, and although crippled by the confiscated card, we could at least pay the rent. And eat.

We’re back to the first paragraph. Today, Louise visited another ATM, using her personal Umpqua debit card. She inserted the card and requested a cash withdrawal. The ATM made satisfying mechanical noises, then a message appeared on the screen. “We apologize,” it said. “Your bank has requested that we retain your card.” The screen went blank. No cash. No card. Her personal account is unrelated to our joint account, but her name appears on both of them. It would appear that Louise is an Umpqua Bank fugitive, wanted in every land.

Using the (new and improved) online interface, we can at least transfer money into our account, pay the rent, and eat. I can get cash from my Key account, but Louise is broke. Those of you who know her, know that this is akin to Armageddon. The woman loves to shop. For Louise, having no cash is like having no hands.

In twenty days, we will head for home. Will Louise survive for twenty days?

Pray for her.