ATM Machines and Credit Cards
The use of Automatic Teller Machines - ATMs - is discouraged in open places. To date, city authorities have an ongoing argument with banks as to who should protect the ATMs and their clients. Partial consequence of this problem is the number of bank hold-ups Mexico has to date. If you are new to the local environment here, you must be aware of the fact that public places where cash is disposed of electronically are frequent locations where crimes are committed. Therefore, we strongly suggest that you leave your credit cards and ATM cards at home.
Because of the danger involved with taking taxis off the street (as opposed to phoning a reputable taxi company for a taxi to arrive specifically to pick you up), riding in certain taxis will only put you at risk for a crime referred to as "Kidnapping Express." If you find yourself victim of this crime, the taxi driver and accomplices will hold you hostage in the cab and drive you around the city using your credit cards or ATM card until your accounts are empty. Once again, leave your ATM cards and credit cards at home whenever possible.
Basic Rules for Using ATMs in Mexico
If you are a frequent user of these machines, we recommend that you use some basic rules of self-protection. Use ATMs only in hotels that have good, visible security. Enter these places always being aware of your surroundings. Do not speak or ask questions of strangers, be they men or women. If in a machine adjacent to a bank, address questions to authorized employees only. If you have no other option, try and access the ATM in an open place, and make sure that it is well lit if at night. Also, check you have a way to come in and out rapidly and safely. Having company with you may prove useful, or have a friend waiting in a car nearby.
Crime in ATM machines is common enought that most banks have installed closed circuit TV monitors. However, to convince the police or federal investigators to use evidence from these films is a complicated bureaucratic process. Therefore if you follow a few simple rules of self-protection, you will be able to carry on with your day-to-day routine without any complications.
Selecting a Location
There are many places in the city that are considered safe. It's your judgement to decide what place is best. The airport has a good number of ATM machines. These are best because they are located in a public area where there is 24-hour police and private security presence. Major 5-star hotels have inhouse, well-protected bank teller machines, too. Sanborns stores (which are similar to Walgreens, but bigger and just as easy to find) offer the same degree of security. The U.S. Embassy Consular Section, though not open to the public, has its own ATMs.
In other circumstances, when you arrive to make a withdrawal, have your card in hand and access code memorized. Proceed to make your operation as fast as you can. As you leave, be aware of your surroundings.
On the other hand, it is best not to carry around large amounts of cash. It is not recommended to carry on your person more cash than the equivalent of 3 day's wages. Ideally, only carry enough money for incidental spending, meals, transportation, etc. When payday comes, if possible, make electronic transfers directly from your employer or client to your account, instead of cashing large amounts of money. Protect your computer bank access codes from hackers by obtaining the best possible electronic security devices commercially available.
Counterfeit Currency and Money Laundering
Unfortunately, counterfeit currency is not uncommon. Yet most cashiers are trained to detect suspicious bills. Furthermore, money laundering has become a major concern among international law enforcement agencies and their Mexican counterparts.
Mexican banknotes have many built-in security features to deter conterfeiters. These features, in turn, make it easier to spot conterfeit currency. Principal among these security measures are embossing, perfect register, watermarks, micro-printed thread, security thread, micro-printed text, iridescent bands and color-shifting ink. For a visual explanation of these ant-counterfeit measures, refer to Bank of Mexico's website at http://www.banxico.org.mx/sitioingles/billetesymonedas/didactico/counterfeiting/inspectionAuthenticity/inspectionNoteAuthenticity.html.
By Mario Gonzalez-Roman (a retired Foreign Service National Security Advisor to the United States Embassy)
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