06/01/2012 07:41 am ET Updated Aug 01, 2012

How Bank of America Saved My Ass

When I logged on to check my bank balance from Egypt last September, as I often do when I travel, I was horrified: Someone had used my debit card to sign up for a account.

Someone knew my debit card number, even though I still had the card. The stories I'd heard about Egyptian ATMs being able to harvest card numbers, it seems, had been true.

I was frenzied as I dialed Bank of America's fraud department on Skype. The usual solution -- cancel the old card, order a new one -- wouldn't work due to the fast pace of this particular trip.

I anticipated the worst as I waited on hold. Although I hadn't "Moved My Money," I was a vocal critic of Bank of America. I was all but certain that seeking its help would make my situation worse, not better.

A Surprising Solution
The first representative I spoke with gave me the expected stock response.

"But I'm leaving the city I'm in tomorrow," I pleaded. "And then spending two nights on a boat on the Nile. And then, I'm flying to Morocco and camping in the Sahara desert.

"I won't be able to receive a new card -- but I need access to my money! Are you sure there's nothing you can do to help?"

I felt increasingly pessimistic the longer I stayed on hold. I was surprised at the rep's cheerful tone upon resuming the call.

"It took me a minute to explain your situation to my supervisor," she said, "but I think she we have a solution that will work for you.

Although my card was deactivated, it would be possible for Bank of America to grant short-term access to my funds when I called and specifically requested it -- but not without a catch.

I would need to navigate the bank's complicated phone tree and re-explain my situation to the representative who answered. Even more stressful, I'd have only 30 minute to make a withdrawal.

Saved By The Bank Everyone Loves To Hate
Over time, I became more adept at managing my new financial handicap. For example, I limited the frequency of my calls by withdrawing my daily maximum every time my card was active.

Owing as much to phone trees and clueless bank employees as to the primitive Internet connections I used to make my phone calls, however, I'd eventually had enough.

So about a month after the initial incident, following a late night arrival in Barcelona, I called Bank of America once again and asked if there was anyway to streamline my new withdrawal process.

To my delight, there was! Bank of America, it seems, had established a department (and, therefore, a phone number) specifically designed to help travelers in my situation.

At long last, I could call a number that rang directly to a representative who already knew the reason for my call. It was almost like having a card whose number hadn't been compromised.

Although I still have my reservations about Bank of America as an institution, I'm humbled as I reflect on last summer's fraud drama: The bank everyone loves to hate saved my ass!