Moving Money

Ecuador uses the US dollar as its official currency. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s really a foreign country. Cash is king here, and online payments are unusual and cumbersome. So you pull money out of your US account using a local ATM and pay your bills. Some people keep a checking account at an Ecuadorian bank and write themselves a US check every month which they deposit. US checks take a while to clear, so they are always a few weeks to a month behind.

Then, something happens like happened this week. Almost every American I knew who uses ATMs to draw money from US accounts started seeing duplicate transactions. I took money out on the 27th and I’ve been checking every day, but so far (knock wood), I have not been hit. The Facebook pages for Ecuador expatriates have been buzzing with possible explanations: perhaps it is Banred, the Ecuadorian ATM clearing house (but why wouldn’t I have been hit?); perhaps it has something to do with the new requirement in the US that cards have metallic security chips (but chipped and unchipped cards are getting hit). Everyone is fighting with their US banks via Skype or MagicJack, trying to get the double charges reversed.

Neither the Spanish-language nor the English-language press has anything about this. It’s all down to “someone said someone told them.” Someone said all the ATMs at the Quito airport but one were out of order. Someone said their bank manager told them it was not a problem at the Ecuador end, but at the US end. Someone said…

We may never know what happened here. Or (just indulge my suspicious nature): the Ecuadorian government could default on all its obligations later this month, and several of the wealthy elite of Ecuador could turn up in the US…with their money, which has somehow followed them across the international border. It is easy to forget, with everything here so modern, that stability in Latin America is a relative term. Meanwhile, we can only hope we will not be subject to the apocryphal ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”

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