Eloping Nearly Ruined By Bank Blocking The Entire "State" Of Las Vegas

I know a lot of your readers believe that local, mom and pop operations are the way to go — that big corporate companies are universally evil and local is almost always filled with nice, smiling workers who are far superior to their sell-out counter-parts. I’m here today to show you that, at least in banking, size doesn’t matter.

Last year, my (then) fiance (now husband) and I eloped to Las Vegas. He is from England, and once he received his fiance visa to enter the US, we had only 90 days to get married and file to adjust his status, so a big or expensive wedding was out of the question. We went to Las Vegas on the cheap, relying solely on my Farmer’s and Mechanics Savings Bank (NJ) debit card to pay for our $200 wedding and $1500 honeymoon for three days. It was quick and cheap, and we promised each other (in addition to the whole love and commitment thing) to save up and come back a year later for a proper honeymoon with nice restaurants, drinks on the beach, massages, and an actual batchelor party for my husband at the burlesque club Forty Deuce…

So we scrimped and saved. We used our FMS debit cards to pay the deposit on the hotel, hold a dinner reservation, make the spa appointment, and pay for our flights. We also got out $500 in cash each, just in case of some emergency (FMS has a policy to only allow 15 swipes of a debit card per business day — including from Friday at 3 PM until Monday at 9 AM, which is a long time when you’re in Vegas).

We weren’t too worried when the very lovely woman at the front desk of our hotel said my husband’s bank card was declined. We’d booked nice rooms and the cost was over $1000, which was larger than the average transaction my husband usually makes, so he whipped out his cell phone and called FMS bank, to give them ID or tell them where we were to remove the account flag or whatever the little problem was.

Quickly his face fell, and my heart sank when he said, “Thank you anyway,” and hung up.

He motioned toward the cash machines and said he was going to try and make a withdraw from what remained of his bank account back in England. “Why?” I asked.

“Because I was just informed that Farmer’s and Mechanics Bank have blocked all financial transactions in the entire city of Las Vegas.”

I couldn’t believe it. He had to have misheard. While he went to the ATM to try and get enough cash that (when combined with our emergency fund) was enough to at least get into our hotel rooms, I phoned the bank customer service number. I advised the girl that my husband and my cards were both not working, and before she asked me for account details, she said “Where are you right now?”

“Las Vegas, Nevada”

“Oh, that’s your problem,” she said. “The entire state is blocked.”

“You blocked the entire state of Nevada?”

“No, the entire state of Las Vegas.”

“Las Vegas isn’t a state; it’s a city.”

“Well, we blocked the state of Las Vegas, Nevada.”

“Okay, look, I’m not going to argue semantics so let me just explain what’s going on here. My husband and I are on our anniversary/second honeymoon trip to Las Vegas. We don’t even have enough cash to check into our hotel room. Is there anyway you can lift the flag on the accounts so we can at least check in? I’ll answer whatever questions you need.”

“No. The entire state is blocked.”

“The entire ‘state’ of Las Vegas.”


“And you can’t unblock it?”

“No, there’s too much fraud. The STAR network blocked it.”

“The STAR network blocked the entire city of Las Vegas.”

“The entire state.”

“…of Las Vegas?”



“Months ago. It’s on our website.”

“I’ve used the website in the last few months. It’s not on there.”

“Well, the last few weeks, at least.”

“I still haven’t seen it.”

“Well, it’s there. The STAR network is blocking all debit card transactions in Las Vegas”

“Well, I’ve seen plenty of people using other debit cards here, and we’re not trying to withdraw money, we’re trying to use the cards as credit cards, so I imagine this is a FMS bank problem.”

“It’s a FRAUD problem,” said the woman, getting irate. “We’re trying to prevent FRAUD, MA’AM.”

“Alright, well, can you wire us some money to the casino from our accounts? As soon as my husband gets back from the ATM, he’ll–“

“No, it can’t be done!”

“Can I speak to a manager?”

“They can’t do anything for you.”

“I’d still like to speak to one.”

After a few minutes on hold, someone else picked up the phone. She declined to give her name.

“Hello, I’m stuck in Las Vegas,”

“Yes, I know.”

“Is there any way you can wire money to a Western Union or to the Casino cashier?”

“No. As our CSR tried to explain to you, ma’am, we’ve experienced a lot of FRAUD from Las Vegas, so we no longer do any transactions within that state.”

“Well, all of my money is in my bank account. All of my husband’s money is in his.”

“Get someone else to wire you money.”

“All of my relatives also have FMS bank accounts, so that won’t be a very good solution, now will it?”

Now, at this point, most CSRs, and definitely any management worth their title would go “Oh crap, that’s two people’s accounts we could lose over this, plus their relatives, who I’m sure they’ll tell about this. We’d better do something fast! These kids are stranded 3000 miles away from home with no funds.”

Instead, she said, “Well, maybe you ought to use your credit cards. That’s what we’ve advised our other clients in this position to do.”

My face, according to my husband, was bright red at this moment as I lost my temper and yelled, “You know, some people don’t *want* to actively be in debt. I only have a $300 limit on my one credit card because I pay my balance in full every month and I want to keep it that way.”

“That’s not our problem, now is it?”

I ran through another list of options: sending us AmEx gift cards for the amounts in our accounts (a product the bank offers) or sending us Traveler’s Checks (overnight, obviously) in those amounts. The woman scoffed at both of those like I was asking for the world.

“Maybe you should just rent a car and leave the state.”

“…the state of Las Vegas?”


Here I paused, to regain composure.

“Don’t you think you should have told someone about this?”

“It’s on the website.”

I asked the clerk at the desk for internet access, and she kindly showed me to the business lounge and waived the fee to use it. I pulled up the website. (A screen cap taken today , over a week later, is attached to this email.)

“I don’t see where it says FMS bank has blocked all transactions within the CITY of Las Vegas.”

“Well, it’s posted in the bank branches.”

“That’s really funny, because my husband and I deposited vacation money in the bank LAST NIGHT, there were no signs in the branch at all.”

“Well, it’s not our fault. This only happened a week ago.”

“A week ago, so much fraud occurred all at once that you shut down the entire city of Las Vegas via the STAR= network? And you couldn’t be bothered informing your customers via email or letter about this, even though you routinely send letters via email and in our bank statements alerting us to current phishing schemes we are supposed to be aware of?”

“Ma’am, we are trying to prevent FRAUD.”

“And you’ve stranded me in Las Vegas with not even enough money to check into my hotel room? What am I supposed to do for this week?”

“Maybe you should carry more cash when you travel,” she said, scolding me like some foolish child.

“You, a bank representative, are really telling your customers to carry their entire vacation funds in cash because you can’t work up a decent system to prevent fraud. Listen, I worked for Barclay’s bank and Barclaycard for a year, and the standard we followed for dealing with this–“


I paused, absolutely taken aback. “Listen, if you don’t want to lose a least myself and my husband as customers, not to mention my extended family, I suggest you find a solution to this problem of stranding customers on vacation with NO FUNDS and NO SOLUTION to YOUR MISTAKE.”

“We didn’t make any mistakes, ma’am. We’re PREVENTING FRAUD.”

This is where I hung up.

The semi-happy ending to this story is that we were able to call my credit card company (HSBC) and have them increase my limit by *only* $100 to allow the car rental company in the hotel to hold $350 on my card for the rental. We then drove to Boulder City, NV and were able to get $500 out each — the maximum amount for the day. Because it was a Friday, and we only had the car for one day, we were unable to get any more from our bank accounts for the rest of the trip and had to call my in laws in England. They put money in my husband’s account there, which we were able to draw from on the fourth day of our trip, thus ruining the first three days where we scrimped and once again ate most of our meals at the buffet.

FMS Bank refuses to apologize for essentially ruining the first three days of our long-awaited vacation nor will they offer any sort of incentive for my husband or I to remain with them. As far as they’re concerned preventing “fraud” (which I imagine is little old ladies losing their pensions at the slots and time shares) is more important than not only good customer service, but preventing customers from being stranded with no access to funds for an indefinite period of time.


We checked the FMS site and couldn’t find a notice about either the city or state of Las Vegas being blocked. Glad everything worked out . FMS certainly showed some poor customer service, and geography, skills, and we hope you’ve moved your money elsewhere.

But while we admire the tenacity with which you protect yourself from getting into debt, and gnash our teeth at FMS, that kind of situation might call for being less credit card allergic. You’ve already saved the money, why not bump up the limit on the credit card you had enough to cover and reduce it after the trip? Or, use traveler’s checks. Either way, access to finances can be rather important while traveling, so unless you’re an excellent dish washer, it’s a good idea to carry multiple forms of payment.

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. feralparakeet says:

    My ex husband and I had a similar problem with Wachovia a couple of years ago when I was in Chicago on business. I used the ATM at the Hilton there (after having used my debit card a number of times in places around town), and when the ex went to use his (we had a joint account), he was refused access.

    I called Wachovia and they explained that due to fraud issues in Chicago, it was an automatic precaution, and they unlocked the account the next morning. They were nice about it and it was resolved by the next morning. A minor inconvenience, but not a big deal.

    The next year, when I travelled to Eastern Europe, I made sure that they put a note on my account that I would be travelling there and not to shut off access to my account when I used foreign ATMs. They didn’t.

    You know, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bad experience with Wachovia. Hrm!

  2. Bay State Darren says:

    Please tell me you followed through on the threats to pull your money out of FMS.

  3. etinterrapax says:

    I agree about solving the thing with a credit card. Part of managing credit is knowing when and how to use it responsibly. That said, though, I don’t know that I’d have missed the entertainment of that conversation with the bank for anything. I do hope they’ve moved their accounts elsewhere. Much as I sympathize with the bank’s interest in fraud prevention, they seem not to realize that preventing fraud is their problem, and they can’t solve it by imposing blanket usage restrictions like that and still keep customers. Next thing you know, it’s merchants and gas stations and wherever there’s been fraud, and there goes the whole system.

  4. Crim Law Geek says:

    I would file a complaint to the FDIC and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (http://www.occ.treas.gov/). One of the goals of the OCC (according to its Wikipedia article) is to “ensure fair and equal access to financial services to all Americans”. Blocking an entire State or City (or City-State) violates this goal. A nice letter from Federal Regulators is sure to straighten this bullshit bank out.

  5. superlayne says:

    This made me sick to read. I would have not been able to control my temper at that point.

    I kind of have the urge to beat up an CSR right now.

    But dear Zenu, thinking Las Vegas is a state? For the love of Shiva take an effing Geography class.

  6. Televiper says:

    You have to admit that refusing to carry a little credit card debt was a major stumbling block in the whole affair. It’s pure insanity to choose renting a car, and taking the joy out of 3 days vacation beats having a higher credit limit. One she very evidently could of paid off the day she returned from her vacation.

    My advice: If you’re gonna travel have a two different credit cards at your disposal with at least $500 on each. Cause shit happens.

  7. MercuryPDX says:

    Hopefully you followed through and pulled your accounts.

    I bet had you explained this whole mess to the hotel concierge desk that they could have driven you both outside the city limits to get cash and come back. it’s remarkable how helpful Casino Hotels become when it comes to giving them money. :)

  8. tcp100 says:

    I do hope you returned home and promptly closed your accounts.

    Granted it is semantics, but that amount of dumbosity alone would make me close my account.

    One of the nails in my 12-year tenure with Sprint PCS’s coffin was when I called customer service having trouble making calls in Philadelphia.

    CS Rep: “Could you spell that?”

    Me: “P-h-i-l-a-d-e-l-p-h-i-a”

    CS Rep: “Where is that?”

    Me: “Uh, Pennsylvania.”

    CS Rep: “I’m not finding it. Is there a bigger city nearby maybe that I’d have in my system?”

    Me: “…..”

    And no, the rep was not of “another land” if you know what I mean. Scary.

  9. tcp100 says:

    Oh, and I do have to pipe in with my obligatory response to any “lols credit cards? You so crazy! They evil!” comment.

    “Credit cards, when used responsibly, are an indispensable tool and should not be avoided just due to the fact that they are credit cards. Credit cards are not derived from Satan’s urine, nor does touching one make you go blind. Credit cards are like a moody boyfriend/girlfriend. If you treat them well, they’re wonderful and will help you out of a jam. If you neglect them, you’ll end up losing your house, dog, and truck, and will have to write a country song about it. And it will probably be your fault.”

    Thank you for your time.

  10. Televiper says:

    As a Canadian I can understand not knowing where Delaware is, or the capital of Maine. We are talking 50 states here. I could also understand being confused about New York, Brooklyn, and Manhattan. The thing is we’re talking about Las Vegas, Nevada. They’re can’t be a more obvious, and well known city in the United States. It seems like living in France and not knowing where the Eiffel Tower is.

  11. tcp100 says:

    @Televiper: Maybe if she whipped out her Elvis impersonation, the whole conversation would have been more clear.

    Geography can be tough, but The King speaks universally.

  12. TWinter says:

    I learned this lesson a couple of years ago on a trip to Europe when whatever system links up European ATMs to North American bank accounts stopped working for about a week. A very nice bank teller in Hamburg spent about 30 minutes on the phone to her bank’s data center and told me that there was nothing that could be done, the system was down and no one knew when it would be back up. Fortunately, I was able to borrow cash from my friend in Hamburg, but I met at least a dozen frustrated and angry Americans and Canadians at various ATMs across Germany while on that trip.

    When leaving town you should always have multiple ways of getting at funds. I even started to get travelers checks again for long trips after that experience.

  13. Buran says:

    @Televiper: Vegas HAS an Eiffel Tower in it. It’s a reproduction, of course, and is not full scale, but it still has one.

  14. SBR249 says:

    I hope the OP followed through with pulling the FMS accounts.

    Also, in this day and age, it’s not wise to have “credit card allergy”. No matter how much you pay off your monthly bill, your credit score is also very dependent upon your debt ratio. If you have a $3000 credit limit and you spend $300 a month, you are using 10% of your spending power. That is a lot better than having a $300 credit limit and spending $150 a month, because then you’d be using 50% of your spending power. Overall, this debt ratio accounts for around 30% of your credit score, almost as much as the punctuality of your payments (~35%). (Source: wikipedia).

    In any case, I’m glad this didn’t completely ruin your vacation and hope you have better luck next time (and with another non-bullshit bank).

  15. Bay State Darren says:

    @tcp100: There actually other American communities named Philadelphia per Wikipedia, so the state question was just being thorough. The qestion after that one though, was just dumb.

  16. w_boodle says:

    It was quick and cheap, and we promised each other (in addition to the whole love and commitment thing) to save up and come back a year later for a proper honeymoon with nice restaurants, drinks on the beach, massages, and an actual batchelor party for my husband at the burlesque club Forty Deuce…

    Drinks on the beach? In Vegas? Hmmmm.

  17. tcp100 says:

    @Bay State Darren: True, but I would think that if someone mentions Philadelphia sans Pennsylvania, they’d assume they’re talking about “the big one”.

    That, and the fact that I had a PA area code on my account at the time.

    Nonetheless, dumb they were, and cancel shortly after I did.

  18. Namilia says:

    My guess is that the CSRs were government-educated exclusively and therefore don’t know their ass end from their elbow. (Higher education is the *only* way to go in today’s society!)

    I would have been screaming at the CSRs, there is no way I could have kept my cool in that situation. Kudos to you for that, and I hope you report them for that.

  19. Major-General says:

    Leave the bank. Make a big show about the stupidity that caused you to leave. I think its another case that proves my theory that to work in banking you have to have a lobotomy.

  20. bohemian says:

    On a recent trip I had my card decline on a minor purchase when I knew I had a four digit dollar balance on the card. I called the bank, they informed me they downgraded my daily limit to $300 when they reissued me a new debit card after TJ Maxx lost all those card numbers. I usually had a $700 daily limit. It did really send me into a panic that the bank could pretty much do any foolishness they wanted leaving us stranded. I had quite a bit of cash on me, at least enough for gas and food to get us home in a pinch. I made sure I had at least that much all the time the rest of the trip. I also found that prepaying hotel rooms resulted in them not locking up large amounts of debit card funds as security for days on end.

    As far as the get credit cards. No thanks. Even with the intent of paying them off as soon as you get home I have seen too many ways companies lose your payment long enough to incur some additional charges or other BS. With interest rates in the 10-30% range for most cards forget it. Next trip it will be a combo of cash, travelers checks, debit card and maybe a couple of prepaid visas.

  21. ToddMU03 says:

    I was using a local bank in Indiana and was about to go on a trip to Germany. I checked with my bank to make sure I could use my debit card. They assured me it was no problem. The day before I left I had an unexpected check to cash so I double checked. Sure enough, they said I had to get permission and it would take 2 weeks. I finally go the branch manager to waive the 2 week process and just allow me to use my debit card overseas. But there was no warning and the teller told me that it was something they had implemented in the week that I had checked.

    Of course, this is the same bank that said I lived at an address that they wouldn’t mail my debit card and pin number to, meanwhile, my mom and dad used the same bank and had no problem getting their cards and pin numbers.

  22. Odwalla says:

    @Televiper: Screw France, they’ve got an Eiffel Tower in Vegas.

  23. Karl says:

    I doubt STAR had anything to do it. Car rental and hotel transactions are processed through the credit card networks, not the debit networks. They sound highly incompetent.

  24. 300sd says:

    use a credit card next time and you won’t have any problems…credit cards evil? then carry the $1700 in cash

  25. Falconfire says:

    @Namilia: Most higher ed people I work with are just as dumb as a rock.

    Likewise to privately educated and not publicly in fact more so since mom and dad can just pay to keep you in school (you dont think they actually fail people who’s parents make “contributions” do you? You have to almost kill someone to get kicked if your parents have enough money).

    And vise versa, I can name two people right off the back who never graduated college, barely made it through high school and could probably think you dead they are so smart. They also make over 150k each without ever going to college. One went to public school, the other a catholic school.

    So your comment speaks volumes of your true ability to be a asshole, rather than making a point.

  26. charmaniac says:

    Yeah! You should have just used a credit card!! I am sure the credit card company would have mailed the card to your hotel room, had you send in the application and approved it in plenty of time for you to enjoy your vacation.

    BTW, I don’t use credit cards. I use debit or cash only…why should I pay interest when I have the convenience factor taken care of with debit?

  27. RebekahSue says:

    This is so insane, and I’m so sorry for this couple.

    I went to Vegas a few months ago. I had no problems with my hotel etc., with my credit card.

    My point is that transportation was $5/day – 24 hour pass on the really clean buses that go up and down the Strip, stopping at all the major locations. I spent the most money on bottled water – about $4/day. (Our convention group was encouraged to drink a lot, because of the heat, and the hotel gift shop had litre bottles for $1. The convention bathroom tap water was warm, and I wasn’t staying at the hotel at which the convention was being held, so filling up in my room every few hours wasn’t an option. I’d packed power bars instead of buying meals, and had breakfast out and one dinner that consisted of a huge appetizer.)

    Using one’s debit card should NOT be a problem on vacation. I had no problems using my debit Visa. (I used my credit cards where I could accumulate extra miles, and had $100 with me.)

    Debit cards should have been all that Mary and her husband needed. I’m sending this to my bank (Webster, in Connecticut) with my thanks.

  28. philipbarrett says:

    AMEX ladies & gents – phone numbers that work (including Collect from outside the US), CSRs who can make decisions and the “gotta pay it all off at the end of the month” discipline. And for the stores who won’t accept AMEX I take my buz’ness elsewhere.

  29. geofffox says:

    I’m willing to be wrong here, but something about this story doesn’t sound right… beginning with a very detailed verbatim account of a phone conversation

    Aren’t there Mastercard/Visa rules a bank using either logo must follow? Wouldn’t the State of Nevada or the LV Chamber of Commerce raise a stink if credit cards were cut off?

    Can someone point me to anything solid that will make this whole episode seem real? Until then, I’m a skeptic.

  30. markedward says:

    Just a quick lesson:

    Confusing a state as a city (Pennsylvania, in an above post) is inexcusable stupidity, but on the other hand, while the bank reps in the article were being incredibly rude when it came to the semantics of “city” and “state,” it’s a mildly excusable confusion: a state, in legal terms, is a self-governed community of people. The USA is a “state” (country) with 50 “states” (states) and each of these 50 states has hundreds of their own “states” (cities). While in literal terms it was accurate to call Las Vegas a “state,” although the bank reps could definitely have been a heck of a lot more kind in how they explained it.

  31. Naval Patel says:

    As I was reading this, I was getting so angry myself that I began considering canceling my bank account with Bank of America! It is absolutely ridiculous that they did that to you guys.

    Go to the nearest branch and give the manager a swift kick in the nuts.

  32. TechnoDestructo says:

    There IS a lot of identity theft in this region. (CA-NV-AZ tri-state area and on down to Phoenix at least) Goes hand-in-hand with the meth problem.

  33. DCvision says:

    I just returned from two weeks in china, and while credit cards were usually accepted (Visa/MC, not usually AMEX) travelers checks were difficult to cash, only at a Bank of China outlet, and then begrudgingly. When traveling, we only use credit cards (usually the ones with point reward systems), or cash. I don’t wan’t anyone having access to my checking account until I get back on American soil, and credit cards provide fraud protection, good exchange rates, and 25-30 days to fix any problems before they become big problems. ATM’s take your money right away…

  34. MeOhMy says:

    Mary – I have your back. I have a FMS checking account that literally has 29 cents in it. Every month for nearly 5 years now, they dutifully spend 41 cents to mail me a statement. Suckers!

    As for travelling – alwaysalwaysalways have reserves of local currency and a couple of credit cards, just in case. Sure, most of the time your ATM card or credit card works…but you need to be covered in case it doesn’t. Just be grateful you were stranded in your native country where you can at least speak the language and communicate easily.

  35. leejames says:

    @geofffox: I’m with you: this all seems a little off, between the verbatim phone transcript, the small amounts of money, the no-trace-of-this-anywhere-else-on-the-internet factor, and the “‘state’ of Las Vegas” money shot

    It’s a funny story, no doubt, and I enjoyed reading it. And the overall lesson — be willing to rock the credit card on vacation, especially if you can immediately pay it back — still stands. But it just seems all-too-perfect.

  36. gpatrick900 says:

    If your debit card has a MasterCard or Visa symbol. You could also use your card as a cash advance by going inside a bank and you would show your card and ID. They would run it through the MasterCard or Visa cash advance system. You would get the cash. Knowing that bank may have even blocked that. They must of blocked both signature and pin transaction. I would never get a bank that say you can only do 15 swipes for a debit card. You should check your Electronic Fund Transfer agreement to see if there was a way you could got emergency funds sent to you. Some banks have way to send you money. They may have that in their agreement..

  37. OwenCatherwood says:

    Visa limits holds/reserves to $1000/day for debit transactions, and $25,000 for transactions done as credit, which would be why the hotel wouldn’t take the card, according to a relative who works in the Credit Union industry.

  38. @leejames and geofffox:

    Or maybe the submitter just has, you know, writin’ skillz and all dat.

    Due, no doubt, to the fact that she didn’t attend private school or go to college, Falconfire.

  39. OwenCatherwood says:

    Continuing from above: STAR Network does not have to do with credit/debit transactions, they only are in charge of one of the two CU ATM networks (Cirrus being the other). As for why they couldn’t withdraw from the ATM, I don’t know. My relative hadn’t heard anything about STAR blocking anything in Vegas. Only places he knew of were Tokyo and places in Eastern Europe where a fraud watch would be placed if not notified in advance of traveling there.

  40. yg17 says:

    Everyone who says to bring cash…no way. At least if you’re flying. My wallet is out of my sight for too long while going through security for me to feel comfortable with cash. If someone steals my wallet, I’m fucked no matter what throughout the duration of my trip, but at least if I only have my credit and debit cards in there, I can immediately call my banks to cancel the cards and not be broke when I get home.

    Oh, and as far as the whole private/public school debate goes…..lay off the public schools for a bit. Not all of them suck. I went to public schools all my life (and damn good ones too, upper class suburbs FTW!) and got a great education. Currently in college and doing quite well (got a 4.0 last semester w00t!), have a well paying internship and will likely continue that job full-time, making a great salary when I graduate. For every dumbass you know who graduated from a public high school, I know a dumbass who graduated from a private high school.

  41. superbmtsub says:

    lol @ state of las vegas.
    It got a lot more funny when the CSR and her manager held their positions.

    Reminds me of the chief of telecommunications in Iraq during the beginning of the war … “No there are no Americans nearby …” *BOOOOM*

  42. tedyc03 says:

    You know if this wasn’t so terrible it’d make for a funny movie…

  43. strathmeyer says:

    “I’m sorry, but may I please speak to somebody intelligent enough to identify Las Vegas as a state or city.”

  44. astrochimp says:

    @charmaniac: “BTW, I don’t use credit cards. I use debit or cash only…why should I pay interest when I have the convenience factor taken care of with debit?

    I assume you have a debit account with no fees, or else you just undermined your own point. Responsible credit users can manage to pay no interest whatsoever, and avoid paying monthly fees associated with a debit account (should they so choose). Furthermore, credit cards are even more convenient and, while practically less secure than a debit card (for lack of PINs/non-checking of signatures), one is protected from fraud to a much higher degree with the former.


    Using “state” as an accurate descriptor of Las Vegas is only correct in common usage for academics and pedants. Bank representatives should pretend to be neither. In common usage, the representative wasn’t “literally” correct, she was an idiot.

  45. etinterrapax says:

    Yeah, I’m not sure it’s necessary or productive to start firing at one another over schooling. There are smart people from all walks of life, and people whose education hasn’t given them a lick of common sense, and genuine dullards who have gamed the system, and people who have honestly worked hard and made the best of what they’ve had, whether that’s no formal education at all or a Ph.D. As soon as you generalize, you buy into the whole asshole system that has people bankrupting themselves for college educations they may or may not actually need, and people clawing at one another to get their kids into whatever college US News thinks is the greatest this year, and it’s all so unnecessary. It’s stressful and counterproductive, and what I resent the most is how it screws with people’s innate interest in learning by attaching all kinds of class signifiers to it. The US, at least, was formed on better principles than that. Let’s make an effort at egalitarianism.

  46. djxspike says:

    @philipbarrett: AmEx FTW – every time.

    Not to belittle the situation, what the bank did was wrong IMHO, but I always make it a point to call my various financial institutions ahead of time to let them know of my whereabouts when I travel for work.

    I hope you closed your account(s). What the bank did is absurd to me.

  47. CyGuy says:

    A couple of alternative solutions that the couple could have looked into:

    – A regular check, there is system called TeleCheck that lets you use your regular checkbook to pay for transactions while traveling while providing some assurance to the receiving business that you are not ripping them off.

    – Have FMS transfer funds to your husband’s UK bank – you might take a bath on currency exchanges, but you would be able get to you cash.

    – Have the hotel run the transaction through one of their other locations – not likely to work for things other than the hotel, but you already had the $1000, plus funds from your husbands account to cover the other expenses.

  48. lizzybee says:

    @w_boodle: Mandalay Bay has quite a nice fake beach, actually.

    Rant: What the hell is up with all of this “fraud protection” crap? The banks and credit cards think they can get away with murder, doing absolutely asinine things “because of fraud.” Around Christmas, I was in British Columbia, and **horrors** forgot to call my credit card company. I did most of my purchasing from cash I got using my debit card, but in Victoria, I used my credit card to buy a pair of boots. Some stupid system alert got triggered and I found out later that a number of bill payments I usually make from the card were frozen– the first sign I had was when I checked my email account and found my credit card had been declined.

    When I got back home, I found some stupid message from Citibank checking on my credit card purchase. I called them back, only to be informed that, “You should have told us before you went on vacation. We blocked everything because of that ‘fraudulent charge.'” Funny, though, they paid it, even though they didn’t bother to pay my REGULAR charges. Of course, they never bothered to send a notice or simple letter to me telling me of their crazy policy changes– i.e. “You need to have our permission before you go on vacation!”

    I ranted and I raved, but I couldn’t opt out of their stupid system checks. Whatever happened to the idea that you check your own statement and dispute charges? I’m not that paranoid about fraud that I’d like to submit my every move in my life to the approval of my credit card company.

  49. allstarecho says:

    You can just tell by their elementary web site – [www.fmsbank.net] – that this is a small bank that obviously doesn’t even have CSRs or tellers making over $7.00 an hour. Their branch president probably is on a $500 a week salary. “You get what you pay for.”

  50. mac-phisto says:

    wow, this sucks. don’t know if this is the best solution, but often times a casino will run a credit app & extend house credit to you. as long as you can come up with the funds before you leave (sometimes even by electronic bank draft), i don’t even think there’s a charge for this service.

    at least that’s how it works at the sun…

  51. VA_White says:

    @lizzybee: Rant: What the hell is up with all of this “fraud protection” crap? The banks and credit cards think they can get away with murder, doing absolutely asinine things “because of fraud.”

    This is the same line of bullshit the TSA uses to inspect your orifices for contraband liquid – “for security reasons.”

    And, FWIW, I believe there are two idiots in the same place who would call Las Vegas a state. There are a lot of idiots out there.

  52. loueloui says:

    That was a shitty thing to do to customer, and the identity theft issue does carry some weight.

    However the idiots at the ABA have made their bed, many times over, and now they squeal like pigs about fraud.

    I can’t help but wonder out loud about their debit cards though. If they have a VISA or Mastercard logo, that qualifies them for emergency cash from yourr account, and they are set up for this. I found out the hard way when I got my wallet lifted just before boarding a plane for the Cayman Islands. They really came through.

  53. synergy says:

    Has this woman previously had credit card debt issues or something that she can’t control herself if her limit is higher? I have a $14K limit on my oldest credit care, but that doesn’t mean I have to rack up $14K in debt.

  54. 0x12is18 says:

    Traveler’s checks are not taken by that many businesses anymore because they can be forged like any other check.

  55. ancientsociety says:

    I feel for this couple. I hope to god you, your husband, and your extended family all left the bank and used this as the reason why.

    As far as all the “you should have used credit/you should have a higher limit/etc.” BS, I’m certainly floored by comments like this on the Consumerist. Especially after so many of said commenters advocating this, are usually from the “zOMG!!1! Credit cardz r evil!” crowd. You people do realize that not EVERYONE walks around with multiple credit cards maxing out @ $1000+ everywhere right? Not everyone wants the debt, or hassle, or possible theft of said credit….

  56. BugMeNot2 says:

    As someone that has worked in the Financial services industry (FRAUD detection) let me shed some light. As arsine as it sounds if the STAR Network decides to not accept transactions from a certain area of the nation (Las Vegas) because of FRAUD there’s NOTHING the individual bank can do to release funds. Why? Because in this case the acquire (insurer) has decided that the network is responsible stemming the fraudulent transactions and will no longer accept transactions from that network. The bank at that point can no longer take the transaction because they are no longer insured for it. It’s not really your banks fault, but frankly there’s nothing they could have done about it.

    Also even though you’re trying to preserve your credit IMHO you should always put things like your room and car rental on your CREDIT card and not your DEBIT card. CREDIT cards work on a different set of rules like you’re only liable for $50/$75 of fraud if you couldn’t prove fraud as well as automatic travel/insurance coverage with the right card.

    Last but not least as several readers have pointed out AMEX works on it’s own set of rules, so if you’re able to afford one and travel a lot a AMEX card should always be in your wallet.

    Finally I’m no longer in the industry (got tired of the BS of the industry) and this is a fake user. So I’m sorry but I can’t help any of you further.

  57. Michael says:

    This was both really funny and very sad at the same time.

    Personally, I’m calling Customer Service (1.888.388.9500) today to ask them what the capital of the state of Las Vegas is.

  58. mahlookma says:

    @BugMeNot2: Since the STAR Network lists 25 different atm locations in Las Vegas including a number of banking institutions. With that in mind, it really does sound like the bank blocked the transaction rather than STAR. Furthermore, FMS did have the ability to wire their customers money without involving STAR at all. This really is the bank’s fault.

    Also, thanks for the helpful tips on CREDIT vs DEBIT use on vacation.

  59. kc-guy says:

    1) Use regular checks.
    2) Conference call with STAR representatives.
    3) Screw talking to a manager, speak to a VP.

  60. The Walking Eye says:

    Is the state of Atlantic City blocked as well?

    I’ve never asked my bank or told them where I was going, cause it’s none of their business, and if my card wouldn’t work I’d raise hell with them.

  61. beavis88 says:

    You might want to go ahead and find a new credit card company too, before HSBC becomes “Part 2” in this sad saga.

  62. boandmichele says:

    No, she shouldnt have to incur credit card debt if she doesn’t want to. Her bank should let her spend her money. People should not have to walk around wondering if their card will work elsewhere in the country.

  63. JustAGuy2 says:

    Frankly, anyone who doesn’t use credit cards because they’re opposed to being in debt just doesn’t understand credit cards. I use credit cards (a Visa and an Amex) every day, and every month I pay off the balance in full. I have zero debt. In fact, I get a 1.5% discount on everything I spend, because I use a credit card. Using credit cards does not equal having credit card debt.

    I suppose, in theory, I have credit card debt, in that I “borrow” the money until my bill comes. That’s an interest-free loan, so that’s another small discount, since the money sits in my account for the month, rather than the vendor’s, so I earn interest on it.

    Also, because I use credit cards, I can rent a car, check into a hotel, etc., without worry.

    Unless you have so little self-control that you really can’t trust yourself with credit cards (i.e. you actually carry a balance at an interest rate higher than the after-tax rate you earn in your savings account), using credit cards is much more fiscally prudent than paying cash.

  64. humphrmi says:

    @lizzybee: That’s very odd, I’m a Citibank customer as well, I travel all around the world on business, I have never once told them where I’m going in advance, and I’ve used Citibank Credit, Debit and even ATM transactions everywhere. Oddly the only time I’ve had “fraud” lockups on my account is when I used my debit card at a gas station three blocks from my house.

    I guess I’m just lucky.

  65. joeblevins says:

    While we all want to praise our victim for a cute phone call conversation, this again is something that could have been mitigated. You have to keep a credit card for emergencies such as this one. What would have happened if her car broke down? Or an emergency that required her to get a plane ticket quickly?

    You need a credit card to maintain ‘travel agility’. It is a good option if you have the discipline.

  66. Sathallrin says:

    @JustAGuy2: That is exactly what I do as well. Keep the money in the bank earning interest until the credit card bill comes and then pay it all off in full. Earning the reward points or the cash back on the way to save money. I don’t spend excessively on the card just because it has a high limit. I count every amount I spend as a debt against my balance in my bank account even though it doesn’t post right away to the account. Takes a little bit more tracking to keep track of it all, but I don’t overspend needlessly anyways so it works out in the end.

  67. MameDennis says:

    I just love the bureaucratic logic that a logical response to fraud is to block *all* use geographically.

    Why not take it to the next step? Stop processing *all* transactions, everywhere, and that’s the end of credit/debit fraud!

    (Guess I shouldn’t give them any ideas…)

  68. MeOhMy says:


    Everyone who says to bring cash…no way. My wallet is out of my sight for too long while going through security for me to feel comfortable with cash.

    That’s why god invented money belts. Every traveler should have one.

    You can just tell by their elementary web site – [www.fmsbank.net] – that this is a small bank that obviously doesn’t even have CSRs or tellers making over $7.00 an hour. Their branch president probably is on a $500 a week salary. “You get what you pay for.”

    They’re actually one of the best and most convenient banks in the area. Unless you’re travelling to Vegas, apparently :-)

  69. bvita says:

    While I’m entirely sympathetic to their plight, as someone who spends an average of 100 room nights/year, I’d like to make a few points:

    1. Most hotels and virtually all car rental agencies have notices, either on their websites or at the counter stating that they will not accept debit cards as the (check-in) deposit. That is because they have to estimate your total charge and preauthorize it. For example, a $50/night room at Circus Circus will result in a $100/day preauth to accomodate any room charges that you may incur (toll calls, restaurant/room service charges, spa treatments, etc). The final amount will correct itself when the room or car rental is closed out. This would mean that a 5 night stay would lock up $500 on your debit card, not the $250 you would be expecting. Credit card auths drop off in a few days. Debit card auths generally take much longer.

    2. Las Vegas is in a desert. No drinks by the beach unless the big earthquake hits (unless you are talking about the Mandalay Bay wave pool :-)

  70. Wormfather says:

    @Namilia: Um, I was government educated and I’m doing quite well actually.

    If you dont know that Las Vegas is a city by the age of 10 there is no amount of higher education in the world that can save you. Just ask some of the MBAs I’ve met.

  71. rlee says:

    @lizzybee: Had a similar, but less extreme, citibank incident. I left a conference in San Jose to fly via Los Angeles to vacation in Mexico. Upon returning home, I had a message urging me to call Citibank. A breakfast charge in SJ, a small purchase at LAX, and paying the hotel upon arrival in Mexico — all in the same day (!) — was enough to trigger a flag. I guess air travel is a rarity with their customers. Fortunately they didn’t block any charges. I asked whether notifying them of travel in advance would prevent a repeat and they said yes.

  72. Yah, to be honest, you should do two things when going on vacation, which almost nobody really does:

    1) tell your bank that you may be withdrawing large sums in quick succession so that they don’t put a hold on any transactions.

    2) pay off your credit card balance immediately, then rack up no more vacation debt than you can pay off when you get home.

    @Sathrallin: that’s a very silly way to do things. Banks give you shit interest rates compared to the interest of a credit card bill, and you don’t have to WAIT for the bill to pay it off. Keep a record of what you spent, or better yet get a credit card with an online account. Then pay it off when you get home. Your interest should really not be much.

    Also, keeping money in money belts is really dumb if you’re travelling anywhere in the developed world. If plastic gets stolen, you can cancel plastic. You can’t cancel money.

  73. Shadowman615 says:

    Be sure to send them a link to this article:


  74. Ideapimp says:

    I’m just trying to figure out where they were going to find a beach to have “drinks on the beach” in Las Vegas.

    There some ocean I’m not aware of?

    But seriously. Gotta love tiny banks and their narrow-minded outlook on the world.

  75. nweaver says:

    @charmaniac: Actually, because you pay it off every month, you SHOULD use a credit card. It gives you a chance to dispute fraud before it hits your wallett.

    My policy is I have 2 cards (one main, one backup, different providers) which I pay in full EVERY MONTH.

    This actually results in net savings, as my primary card is a Costco Amex (1-3% cash back)

  76. MeOhMy says:

    @Pope John Peeps II:

    Also, keeping money in money belts is really dumb if you’re travelling anywhere in the developed world. If plastic gets stolen, you can cancel plastic. You can’t cancel money.

    When I say money belt, I will clarify that I’m talking about a pouch that is attached to you and tucked inside your pants.

    Keeping money in a money belt – attached, concealed, close to your body – is certainly smarter than keeping it all in your wallet…or worse, not carrying ANY local currency.

    Cancelling your credit cards won’t buy you food, lodging or transportation. You need a reserve of cash and a backup credit card somewhere that cannot be pickpocketed so that if your wallet IS stolen, you have something to work with until you can make alternative arrangements.

    Cash is king – accepted everywhere and by all people. It’s your safety net. Keeping some in reserve is worth the risk compared to getting stuck with nothing.

  77. @superlayne: “But dear Zenu, thinking Las Vegas is a state? For the love of Shiva take an effing Geography class.”

    I had a friend move to Cali from Vermont and the DMV kept insisting Vermont was a city and they couldn’t honor city drivers licenses, only state licenses. He was like, “What CITY even issues licenses? Is that even legal?”

    They went round and round for half an hour about whether Vermont was a state (“I’ve never heard of it, sir.”) before he insisted on seeing the phone book, showed them Vermont, and the supervisor, after a pause, said, “If it’s good enough for Pac Bell, it’s good enough for me.”

    (And wasn’t there some congressional office a few months ago that screwed up travel because they didn’t know cities from states?)

    @humphrmi: “That’s very odd, I’m a Citibank customer as well, I travel all around the world on business, I have never once told them where I’m going in advance”

    Probably BECAUSE you travel frequently. Credit cards flag unusual account activity to lock the account. (And some cards require you to “unlock” international charging before the first time you use them overseas.) Back when I was traveling a great deal, I never had to call my card. Now that I travel abroad only once a year or so, I do call every time or my card doesn’t work. They’ve marked my account something like “irregular foreign travel, always calls” because I really prefer to spend the five minutes making the call a week before I leave and have them keep the stronger fraud watch on my account.

  78. Kurtz says:

    I had an experience with Citibank a few years ago where they didn’t block any charges, but I did get a call from their fraud department. I had charged hundreds of dollars in travel expenses in various countries without problems that year, so I was surprised when a $7.00 purchase at a Walgreens in Abilene, Texas, triggered a flag on my account. The Citibank CSR said my account was flagged because the Walgreens cashier manually keyed in my credit card number (their scanners were down that day).

  79. @Troy F

    The only reason you should even have a money belt in the first place is because you are travelling in a country with little electronic infrastructure. Like I said, if you’re anywhere in a developed country, and you’re a little bit smart about things, you should not need to carry around much cash. One should not have to live one’s life by the idea that your bank is going to screw you in the most evil and criminal way possible, like this lady.

    That being said, if you ARE in a developING country, remember that money belts aren’t perfect. If someone mugs you, likely as not they’re going to have at least watched you for a few minutes, and chosen you because you’ve got nice stuff. Don’t rely on money belts not to be found out. Criminals aren’t retards.

  80. from_florida says:

    I called the bank a little while ago to find out what, if anything, was being done for this woman and her husband. The bank assured me that they were working with her to resolve the situation, and that this was a rare event.

    I asked if they would give an update to the Consumerist once the situation was resolved, and the woman I spoke with said “probably not.”

    Fair enough, I guess. But it couldn’t hurt their PR.

    I’d really like to see a follow-up on this. I’d be horrified if I were in a similar situation.

  81. balagon says:

    Front page of my credit union’s website has a list of countries where the CU has blocked debit card transactions, and another list of countries where credit card transactions are blocked. The lists are in big, bold letters–no way to miss it. I’d assumed that all banks did the same thing.

  82. MeOhMy says:

    @Pope John Peeps II: It has nothing to do with your bank trying to screw you – that’s why you carry a couple of credit cards AND cash when you travel.

    You hide some cash to help in the possiblity of getting your wallet stolen – otherwise, you now have no credit cards, no ATM card, no cash and you may well have also lost your passport, rail pass, return flight ticket, etc.

    Picking pockets is less risky for a thief than trying to actually confront and rob people, but if you actually do get held up and lose everything, you’ll be in the same boat either way – what’s a couple hundred dollars more or less at that point? If you get targeted because they know you have a money belt or you are travelling with “nice stuff,” you should be more discreet when traveling anyway.

    So you can’t guarantee you’ll never get robbed, but it’s silly to not at least defend yourself against the more likely scenario of being pickpocketed. If you can separate your stuff and put a backup card and some cash somewhere that is much harder to grab, losing your wallet is much less of a concern.

    Shit happens on the road – better to be prepared. Takes very little extra effort to hide 100 euro in a money belt. In my field we evaluate risks by considering the potential loss, the likelihood of it happening and the cost/effort required to mitigate the loss. Strapping on a money belt with an emergency stash of cash is low cost and low effort.

    Of course there is still no substitute for being aware of your surroundings and travelling smart, but that’s no reason to not bother taking easy precautions like this to save lots of headache.

    Finally, the electronic infrastructure means very little. Berlin has plenty of infrastructure – people there just don’t use plastic very much. You won’t get very far without cash in that town.

    Anyway I guess this is way off topic now…I just would not want anyone to have a bad experience that could have easily been prevented.

  83. adminslave says:

    Geography is not really taught in public schools. My old roommate (from Cali and public schoole educated) once asked me if it was really cold in my home state of Maryland, since it’s right next to….wait for it….Minnesota. Yeah, I’m mid-western!

    Californians are pretty bad with this mainly because they seemingly never bother to learn areas outside of California, Oregon, and Nevada.

  84. TheBigLewinski says:

    Where does her dorky husband find those clothes with miss-matched prints, KMart?

    BTW, did anyone say that she looks HOT? OK, maybe SASSY.

  85. nachas101 says:

    Nasty story.
    I hope you not only pulled your money, but gave the manager of the bank an earfull and wrote a nasty letter to the CEO of the company.
    Banks are supposed to work FOR us, not against us.
    Of course, always carry a credit card and don’t set any odd spending limits unless you have zero self-control.
    Does it matter if you had spent the entire amount on the credit card, then paid it off within 30 days? You already had the money. Credit card companies give you a 30 day float (unless you carry a balance), so there really wasn’t a good reason NOT to use one (except that you didn’t wantt to – which I get).
    I’ve been all over the states and never had an issue with my LaSalle bank card, but who knows? If I did, I kick up a shitstorm over it. i mean, banks work on a lot of levels. They take your money and use it to invest, provide loans, etc. They offer you a pittance, if anything, for doing them the favor of making them rich. Then they refuse to help you when you are screwed?
    I don’t think that’s okay.
    They brought the ATM out back in the day to reduce costs and make it cheaper to do business. The idea was that people could hit an ATM for cash instead of a teller, reducing the need for loads of tellers.
    Then they started talking about how expensive it was and charging you for using ATM’s from other banks (it costs them money? mmm hmmm.) Now, my bank charged me a few bucks if I go below my daily minimum, a few bucks if I use the ATM down the street that isn’t a bank owned atm, a few bucks if I use a teller more than 3 times a month, a few bucks here, a few bucks there….
    Screw them.
    It is YOUR money. They should be careful not to piss you off, not the other way around.

  86. 44 in a Row says:

    I’m just trying to figure out where they were going to find a beach to have “drinks on the beach” in Las Vegas.

    There some ocean I’m not aware of?

    Tangential, but…

    This is probably Mandalay Bay, at the far south end of the Strip. Their pool area includes a gigantic sand beach with a wave pool. Hard Rock has a beach as well, but since she mentions going to Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce, a burlesque club at the Mandalay, I’m assuming that’s the resort in question.


  87. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    The bank is retarded, blah, blah, blah, CSRs are idiots, etc, etc…..

    People actually have credit cards with $300 limits?

    Plus I think they’re going overboard with the CC avoidance, if you just paid off your CC immediately after using it, it would have been the same as using a debit card.

    For example, I pay off all my CCs at least once a week online, so its basically the same as a debit card to me…..but with cash back.

  88. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    HSBC is typically loans to customers with damaged credit, so it could be that these customers have spent a lot of time to get out of debt, and I can understand the desire to stay out.

    My guess is that raising their credit limit at the last minute simply wasn’t an option. The bank shouldn’t have have screwed them over with an overly broad block of Las Vegas.

    The fact that the customer service agent was too stupid to know the difference between a city and state is sad. The fact that the agent wouldn’t own up to her mistake and insisted that she was right and kept rudely “correcting” the customer would be enough for me to take my business elsewhere.

  89. Smashville says:

    I call bullshit on this one…

    Star has nothing to do with the debit/credit transactions. They handle the ATM.

    I think if Visa/MasterCard stopped serving Las Vegas…we would know about it.

  90. Xerloq says:

    Wow. My bank has a great system: if a suspicious or fraudulent transaction comes across, their automated system calls me (my cell), and walks me through some security stuff to make sure it’s me and that I authorize the transaction. It actually caught someone who’d tried to use my number to make a purchase.

    Still, you should have a credit card. When I go on vacation I don’t carry my ATM cards, just a couple of credit cards. Then you pay the whole thing off afterward. It’s safer, and more convenient.

  91. markedward says:


    Individual banks can operate their debit cards however they feel like. If they have rules they want to apply, it’s fair game (as long as they aren’t blatantly illegal). It wasn’t Visa/Mastercard that had stopped serving in Las Vegas. It was that couple’s bank that locked up any of their customers’ debit cards if they were used in Las Vegas. This story might seem a bit farfetched in how incredibly rude the bank reps were, it’s not so farfetched as to be impossible.

  92. Her Grace says:

    Ugh. Private school, public school, college, postgrad, what the fuck ever. It’s NOT ‘semantics’. Semantics is the study of word meanings and choice. There’s no issue of semantics in calling Las Vegas a state, because it’s a city. There is no other option. That’s it. Semantics–word choice in what one calls Vegas–don’t really enter into the picture. Someone calling Vegas a state isn’t a variance in semantics, it’s them being DUMB. Semantics is my choice of the word ‘dumb’ instead of ‘imbecillic’, ‘idiotic’, or a myriad of other synonyms, or perhaps less pc terms like ‘retarded’. Thank you, I feel much better now that I’ve gotten that off my chest.

  93. I-gor says:

    Based on the Bankking horror stories that have been showcased on this website, it seems that we would be better off as consumers not putting all our eggs in one basket. My wife and I kept our pre-marriage bank accounts, which are at different banks than our joint account, simply out of inertia. Turns out it was a good mistake, because we had to tap into our joint savings account for an emergency, only to discover that the bank had suspended the account for some reason that is still unclear to me now. Luckily we were able to tap into the accounts at the other banks.

  94. thalia says:

    This reminds me of when I used to run the switchboard at Litehouse way back in high school…someone asked, “Where is your company located?” and I said, “Idaho.” The response? In all seriousness: “Idaho? What state is that in?”