Vegas ATM Steals $600 - Can You Get it Back?

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Lisa Selle has $600 sucked out of her debit card in Las Vegas. Why won't American Express cover her loss?

Question: On a recent visit to Las Vegas, someone accessed our American Express prepaid debit cards and withdrew $300 from each of them at an automatic teller machine.

We contacted American Express as soon as we noticed the missing money. The company closed the accounts and said they would review the transactions. It issued new account cards, but those cards were canceled immediately because American Express said I had violated section 15D of its agreement. We repeated the process three times.

I've tried to call American Express to clarify what happened, but the department I need to reach doesn't take calls. When I call its customer service representatives, they just read a script. I can't even send the company an email.

We're shocked at the poor level of communication and service with American Express.

Today, I learned that if I file a police report, I might get to the information I need to prove that someone else took my $600.

American Express has yet to send me any information about this incident. My husband received his statement but no additional information. Can you help us get our money back? -- Lisa Selle, Granbury, Texas

Answer: True, American Express is one of the most difficult companies to reach. Some of its departments apparently don't use phones at all. But Amex isn't impossible to reach. I publish a list of executive contacts for American Express on my consumer advocacy site.

The reference to "15D" is a standard clause in American Express' cardmember agreement, a paragraph that basically says the company reserves the right to cancel your card. Alas, the paragraphs are not numbered on the debit card agreement. In the context of what you say happened to you, it's pretty meaningless. It looks as if you just got stuck in a loop of re-issuing and cancellation. Fortunately, after three tries, you received a new card.

But what about the $600? Well, American Express works in mysterious ways. The company would need to view the security footage on the ATM to verify you didn't make the withdrawal. There are also other questions about how the alleged thieves got hold of your PINs or figured out how to authenticate the withdrawal. That takes time.

A company should always be available to its customers. So when I hear about script-reading customer service representatives and departments without phones -- and, of course, companies that allow your money to be taken by strangers -- I can't help but share your disappointment. Amex can do better.

A member of our advocacy team reached out to American Express. Separately, you also contacted its executives. The company refunded both of your accounts without any explanation -- to you or us.

I don't know about the Amex debit card you carry. Next time, maybe you'll want to leave home without it.

Christopher Elliott specializes in solving intractable consumer problems. Contact him with your questions on his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google or sign up for his newsletter.