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When Machines Lie

May 23 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew ( Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at )

Sometimes automated teller machines (ATMs) make me want to punch them. Their only job is to spit out money, but this is a task that they apparently find difficult to handle. But what frustrates me most about ATMs is when they lie.

They have lied to me more than once, as they have to many people across the country. The first time this happened, I was at the nearest ATM hoping to withdraw some money I needed for hospital expenses.

The ATM card and the machine were from different banks; but thanks to interbank services, we no longer have to worry about this.

I put in my PIN and filled out the information it needed from me, including the amount of money I wanted to withdraw. It did not work, even after a second try. I figured the machine did not have enough money, so I moved to the next ATM machine. But the same thing happened at the next ATM. I gave up and left.

To my surprise, I soon received a text message from my bank saying that I had withdrawn money, and according to my current balance, I was broke.

Did the ATM spit out the money for another person to take after I had left?

I was terrified, since I needed the money for my dental expenses. Hurriedly, I went to the nearest branch of my bank. They told me to wait for at least a day before reporting or filing a complaint because, in some circumstances, the money gets returned. Nothing was returned, and after a couple of days, I went to the bank and filed a report. I was told to wait and that a text message would be sent to me.

To this day, I am still waiting. It has been almost five months.

What would have happened had my life depended on that money? If I had to pay rent or did not have any money for food or had to pay a school fee for my children and I did not have anybody to borrow from? Would my landlords have been sympathetic? What about my stomach?

After that day, I swore never to use an ATM that does not belong to the bank where I have an account, which is also something that the bank tellers advised me to do.

This was not the last time I was done a disservice by electronic systems that facilitate banking.

We usually buy a weekly unlimited internet package for work purposes at our home. We do this through mobile banking. We transfer money from our bank account to our phones and buy internet packages.

Recently, when I tried to do this, after going through all the steps, I was told in the end that the transaction was not successful. I kept trying hoping it was just bad network service. It finally worked, and I got my internet on the sixth try.

The next morning, there came a text message from my bank explaining that I had transferred close to 3,000 Br. It turns out that all my attempts to transfer the money were successful despite having received the text from my bank that my transactions were incomplete.

At this point, I had 2,480 Br worth of credit on my phone. I called the bank laughing like a mad person, but they said there was nothing they could do since the transfer was already complete and now the money had gone to Ethio telecom. Fortunately, a shopkeeper in my neighbourhood was kind enough to buy the credit from me and pay in cash at a 10pc profit to himself. I did not complain.

What is the lesson in all of this?

Technology has made some of our chores easier, but it has also made our lives a great deal more complicated. It is like a drug, and despite our best efforts, we cannot manage to get away from it for long.

I certainly could not. A few days ago, I had run short of cash at home. There are only three ATMs in my area, and two of them were out of service. As a last resort, I went to the same ATM machine that took my money the last time.

The machine said that my transaction failed, but a few hours later, I got a text from my bank saying that I had withdrawn the money. Just like last time, I went through the motions and reported what happened at the nearest branch. I am even less hopeful that I will get my money back this time around.

PUBLISHED ON May 23,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1047]

Kidist Yidnekachew has degrees in psychology and journalism and communications. She can be reached at

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