Theft Legal In Israel? Yes! (This Should Be Breaking News.)
So, this happened.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were doing some routine house chores and errands, in a town in Northern Israel.
One of us went to an Automated Teller Machine (ATM) that we use on occasion (more than a dozen times over a period of several years), inside of a nearby shopping mall.
The ATM was not owned and operated by a retail bank.
The ATM was owned and operated by a private company.
We have never had any problem with the ATM before.
This time, the ATM kept the card. The problems start.
The main apparent recourse was to dial the numbers on the ATM and ask for the card back. Calls were made. No one answered. No voice mail answered. On one line, it says to call the operator on the second number. On the second number, it says to call the local bank to which the card belongs. The problem is getting worse, very quickly.
To be sure, I called the card issuing bank, and put a temporary freeze on the card, so that no one could use it with any malicious intent. At least I was able to put my mind at ease about that. I appreciate good customer service. If you have never lived outside of Israel, then you really have no idea what good customer service is, and I empathize with you. You should travel the world a little more, and experience good customer service. It can be quite … amazing.
Anyway, I did not cancel the card at that point, because I was still hoping to get my card back, since we knew exactly where it was. It was in the ATM. I told the issuing bank that I would let them know if I needed them to cancel the card, once all reasonable and necessary attempts to retrieve the card had been performed.
The card does not belong to a local bank. It belongs to an overseas bank, with no local branch in Israel. As you can see, the problem is now starting to become a slippery slope of problems.
Here’s the next problem: The security at the shopping mall does not have any way to contact the ATM operator. So it seems that they just let anyone put an ATM in their mall, without valid contact information. Houston, the problems are getting bigger and bigger.
And the shopping mall manager, is nowhere to be found, does not reply to inquiries in person or by phone, and has not replied to any inquiry since the time the incident was first reported to the shopping mall authorities. The problem is now getting significantly bigger, and it’s not even close to how ridiculous it is in total.
So, at this point, what should I do? Naturally, I tried to find more contact information online. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zip. Problem approaching Critical Point.
Now, with all of those problems stacking up, what could I do?
Well of course, I called the police. And I retold them everything, similarly to how I wrote it above, with all the additional contact details and other bits they needed.
And then they said, “Sorry, there is nothing we can do. It’s not a criminal matter. We can’t ask the ATM operator to give you your card back. You have to keep trying their phone number.” The problem is now in overdrive.
So, I told them again that they are not answering, and I asked them, how is keeping a foreign ATM card, with no way to get it back, not akin to theft? Is it legal to just put an ATM anywhere and just keep the cards and only return the local ones that people ask for at their local bank, and if you get some foreign ones, you can keep those forever?
Their answer, was, shockingly, “Yes, that’s your problem. But there’s nothing we can do.”
So here we are. It’s the middle of 2018. Summer has started. The tourist season is running high. And it is, according to the Israeli Police, perfectly legal for anyone to just plop an ATM into any old place, and steal cards. Especially if they’re foreign cards. The problem has now exploded into the realm of the ridiculous.
At this point, I called the issuing bank and canceled the card, and had them send me a new one, which of course cost extra as it had to be shipped express, overseas, etc.
So now not only have I had my ATM card stolen without any way to even attempt to have the law retrieve it. I have also had to pay to receive my new card, because the ATM operator is nowhere to be found, and we are never alerted by the shopping mall staff as to when they show up. As if their schedule is some kind of state secret. Preposterous doesn’t even begin to describe this situation.
Lesson learned: Be sure you have multiple secure access channels to your funds when traveling in Israel. Because if you don’t, you could literally be left without anything, or any way to get any of it back.
And yes, I know problems like this or worse exist elsewhere. Still, this is not OK, and sharing this story is intended to serve as a reminder that there is much to improve in Israel. This includes the need to improve respect for people’s property, and honoring foreigners, guests, ex-pats and immigrants with the same legal protections that are afforded to native citizens.
This is especially important because so many natives who are “in the system” since birth, benefit beyond the law, by having corrupt “protectziah” (protection) and having their “combina” (shady deal) in place. Meanwhile, others suffer receiving less than the full protection of the law.