The Day Cory Broke the ATM

Sometimes things don’t work out quite how you expect them too.

Because of the really bad, terrible, awful air pollution we are expecting this winter we decided to purchase a hefty air purifier for our apartment. Shout out to Mt. View Wesleyan Church who gave generously toward the $1,600 purchase price.

To buy the air purifier, our payment options were a bank transfer from bank within the country (which we can’t do because we don’t have a local bank account) or C.O.D. because their credit card machine only takes Mongolian bank cards right now.

So Cory went to the ATM to take out money.

We have a $500 per day withdraw per card. So he took both of our cards to a local ATM to get out money and then returned the next day to get out more money.

Most of the machines have a 400,000₮ limit per transaction, which is about $163 USD. So, to get $500 out, Cory would have to do multiple transactions. And math. With a $500 daily limit and flexible conversion rate, he was able to take out about $490 total during three separate transactions on each card which means he’d need to do about 12 transactions over 24-hour periods.

Because the lines are usually pretty long at ATMs and he didn’t want to annoy everyone behind him, he would do one or two transactions, then go to the end of the line to wait to do more. Clearly, a fun process.

I would not be writing a post about this if something hadn’t gone wrong. But I’m writing a post because Cory broke the ATM. Here’s that story:

It was the second day of ATM withdraws; I had already taken out $163 twice and was attempting my third withdraw. I had put in my PIN, requested the money I needed, and was waiting for the funds to be distributed. The screen said, “Take your money” and the ATM started making that noise it does when it’s moving cash around…but it didn’t stop making that noise for the next several minutes and it never gave me my cash.

In broken Mongolian, with lots of pointing and gesturing, I asked the lady behind me what was going on.

“Oh, no”, she said, “That’s bad!” In Mongolian. With two weeks of language school under my belt I was able to understand her clearly.

Then she pointed to the screen and to her phone and told me to call the number. I hadn’t recognized it as a phone number because it had eight digits (like all Mongolian numbers do) instead of seven or ten (like North American numbers do). I pulled out my cell phone and called the number indicated on the screen. I was relieved to hear, “For English, press 2.”

I was immediately connected with an English-speaking customer service agent. She asked me what the problem was and I said, “I’m at the ATM at the branch by Peace and Tokyo St by the Wrestling Palace and the ATM is making a noise and did not give me money or a receipt; it just gave me this phone number to call.”

Her: “Ok, the ATM did not give you money when it said to please retrieve your money.”

Me: “Yes.”

Her: “OK what ATM are you at?”

Me: “I’m at the ATM at the branch by Peace and Tokyo St by the Wrestling Palace.”

Her: “Is that at one of our branches?”

Me: “Yes it is. I’m at the ATM outside the branch near…”

…after a few minutes of talking…

Her: “Oh, you’re at the branch by the Wrestling Palace. That’s what you were trying to tell me.”

After she knew which branch/ATM I was at, she asked me to put my card back in and enter my PIN so she could see what was going on.

So I did.

Her: “Check balance inquiry.”

Me: “Okay.”

Her: “Oh, you have enough to cover the transaction.”

Then she told me the machine was out of money and I’d need to try the ATM at a different branch or go to a different bank. Meanwhile, I’m mildly weirded out that she’s looking at my account remotely through the ATM.

Me: “But did it take money out my account?”

Her: “Yes it did.”

Her: “I’ve put it back in.”

I put her on speaker and pulled up my bank app to verify that the money had been taken out and put back in. It had. I thanked her and got off the phone leaving a line of confused and annoyed people behind me at the ATM. They were about to be more confused and annoyed when they approached the non-working machine themselves.

So I left without being able to explain or apologize and went to a different ATM. I probably invested a couple hours total walking to ATMs, getting cash, counting it and prepping it for the delivery guy.

It was a relief, a few days later, when the air purifier was delivered and the delivery guy accepted my wad of cash.

We are breathing easier now, literally and figuratively.

This is the pile of cash from Day 1. The largest bill is 20,000₮ which is about $8 USD.
This is the delivery guy counting the pile of cash.

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