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Our Worst Travel Moments — Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

We’ve had so many fantastic moments traveling the world continuously for the past five years. In spite of all the “regular” living, there have been challenging moments when things have gone wrong. To be fair, things go wrong even if you live in one place for five years.

We’re just thankful that it hasn’t been one of us waking up and asking the other “Who are you?” And we won’t write about the tsunami alert in Indonesia that turned out to be a huge wave of … wait for it … 2½ inches.

This is one of a series of accounts of our worst moments. In spite of these few misadventures, we are still loving the life of continuous travel!

Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

Cape Town, South Africa

How did it happen?

We like to think of ourselves as savvy travelers when it comes to making cash withdrawals at ATM’s around the world, but damn, we were outnumbered by slick thieves and there really was no recourse. We used an ATM in a sort of empty mall on a Sunday, which was our first mistake; and it’s the last time we’ll do that!

Cape Town panorama from our front balcony.

After we made our withdrawal, received our money and began to leave the area, the problem began. Someone called out to us that he was unable to use the machine because we had not completed the transaction and signed out correctly. He adamantly argued that whenever a foreigner uses the machine, there is always a problem afterward. He loudly beckoned us to return and while we hesitated, the queue of customers grew. They were all dressed like prosperous businessmen. Each of them complained that the machine would not allow them to use it now. Against our better judgement, we reluctantly returned and put our card back in.

The penguins of Boulders Beach near Cape Town

As soon as Ivan put the card back in, he had a sinking feeling. He knew this was wrong, but not quite sure why. Meanwhile, I let him know that there were many now queued and complaining about us ‘breaking the machine’. This prompted Ivan to take a cursive glance behind to see the mob of guys. That’s when the guy in front must have grabbed the card from the slot but neither of us noticed anything. While Ivan was trying to find his card, everyone quietly and suddenly disappeared. We now realized for sure that they probably had our card and the PIN.

We were getting money to buy a SIM card for our phone. So not having a working phone, we had to run back to our place to call the bank. By the time we could check our bank account, they had already taken out $400.


Our stolen money was replaced by the bank after explaining the circumstances.

Lesson Learned
Cape Town, standing on Table Mountain

We are even more vigilant near ATM’s and use only the ones situated inside banks with security officers during daytime hours. Even so, we inspect the card reader to make sure a skimmer hasn’t been installed. You can read about this scam by searching for “ATM skimmer scams.”

In spite of our best precautions, we still became the subject of credit card number theft in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It happened twice and we never figured out how because the card never left our sight. Our bank caught it each time, blocked our card and sent us an email. After talking to us, they had to overnight a new card.

Other stories in “Our Worst Travel Moments”:

9 thoughts on “Our Worst Travel Moments — Robbed by a Gang at an ATM

  1. Hi you two,
    I’m in Japan now & have had 2 security breaches in 3 weeks. 1 was Capitalone venture card & the other American express. Both were covered by credit card companies h 1 replaced the card. So I know how you feel. Keep on enjoying!

    1. Wow. Follow the link to “card skimmer scams” in the blog. Some articles tell you what to look for. We kind of expect that thing to happen in some countries, and we’re both surprised about Japan! Have a great trip!

  2. Ugh you guys. I had no idea that happened. I’m so glad that neither of you were hurt and that the bank covered the loss. Be careful out there. Much love to you both,


  3. Hey guys I thought you guys were on the West Coast of the US….Now your in another continent ????? I always go to an ATM drive thru….and be aware of my surroundings….If you need a couple of bucks let me know I would be have to help out

    1. No, Mick – this is an old story. We are going to do a several more about things that can go wrong when you travel and what to do about it. We are in Olympia Washington.

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