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Wake-Up Call: Pinned by a PIN

I was running late for a plane and needed some cash very early last Thursday, so I stopped by a local Wells Fargo, put my bank card in the ATM and keyed in my PIN. And nothing happened. Beyond a notice that occasionally blinked "Your PIN must be between 4 and 12" characters, there was no movement.

What do you do? Abandon your card, head for the airport and hope you can reach the bank before the next person comes along and discovers an unfrozen machine with a card and corresponding pin number already thoughtfully provided?

I posed that question to the helpful Wells Fargo Visa fraud agent whose unit automatically mailed me a letter when someone (me) tried to get money from my Visa with the wrong PIN (also me -- while I waited for one machine to unfreeze, I thought I might as well get cash from the one next to it, but in my tizzy, i input the wrong number).

"You shouldn't leave the machine without calling the phone number on it," she suggested.

And if there is no phone number? (I'm talking about you, Wells Fargo at 38th and Pecos.) Well, you could do what I did: Hit the machine for about five minutes, which finally did the trick -- after asking me if I wanted to conduct my transaction in French, it spit out my card, then immediately flashed an alert that it was out of service.

I grabbed my empty wallet, hauled off for the airport, and a few days later, got a souvenir of the incident in the form of a note from the Visa fraud unit.

The last time I heard from this office, it was after a long day's drive from western Montana to Denver, where I stopped at a restaurant and charged a meal before going home to collapse. I was awakened by a call from the fraud unit, concerned that my card had been stolen because it had been used in several locations across a thousand miles over the course of a dozen hours. "No, I was just on a road trip," I told the agent. She did the math.

"You must have been driving very fast," she replied. "Slow down."

Now, that's full service.

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