Posts Tagged ‘Riyadh’

How LinkedIn, Airbnb and Seattle Metro reunited $1,100 cash with its Saudi owner

July 28, 2021

Imagine visiting a foreign country by yourself and losing your wallet. ID card – gone. Credit cards – gone. $1,100 in cash – gone.

That’s what happened to a visitor from Riyadh who joined me last week on one of my Airbnb experiences. We enjoyed a nice little hike together on a Monday morning. He paid me a very generous tip, wrote a positive review and we said so long. As with most of my Airbnb experience guests, I assumed I’d never hear from him again.

That’s how it played out until the next evening. While relaxing in front of the TV around 9 p.m. I received a message from him – first through the Airbnb app, then via text, then on WhatsApp. “Hi Cynthia, how are you doing? I need your help if you can.”

I responded: “What’s up?”

I had no idea those two words would lead me on a three-day quest to help out this foreign traveler, who informed me that he had left his wallet on a Metro bus in Seattle. Luckily, he still had his Saudi passport with him. He called the University of Washington Police Department to see if anyone had found the wallet (he was staying at an Airbnb in the U District). The police offered no advice. He was scheduled to take the train to Portland and decided to cancel his credit cards and head south with $50 in cash.

In an amazing stroke of luck, someone messaged him via LinkedIn to say they had found his wallet and turned it into Lost and Found at King County Metro. Since I was the only person who he had contact information for in the Seattle area, he reached out to ask if I could retrieve the wallet for him. He asked that I mail the wallet via UPS and wire the cash to him via Western Union to Portland  – or to his next destination – San Francisco. He even sent me a photo of his passport with all his personal information.

I put myself in his shoes and agreed to help out.

He thanked me “Seriously I do appreciate what you will do for me. I will not forget it whole my life,” he texted.

Are you thinking that something must be up with this? Could this be a scam? I wondered the same thing. But I thought it through and couldn’t figure out what the scam would be.

He then texted me the lost and found report he filed with Metro and gave me their address and phone number. The next morning I headed to the Metro office in Pioneer Square. They e-mailed my new Saudi friend to get permission to release the wallet to me and I was able to retrieve it – and the full $1,100. I noticed on the log that I signed that it was the most amount of cash anyone had retrieved. My new friend was incredibly lucky. Not only did someone find his wallet, they found him on LinkedIn, reached out to him, he responded, and they didn’t steal a dime. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised about this. But the cynic in me can’t help but be amazed.

I took the wallet to UPS to send to Portland. And I took the $1,100 cash to the Western Union at my local Safeway to wire it to my new friend. He told me to take any fees out of the $1,100 and to send him whatever was left over. And he told me to keep $100 for myself. By 12:15 p.m. I was done.

Or so I thought. I messaged him the receipts for UPS and Western Union and kept waiting to get a notice that he had retrieved his money.

At 8:04 p.m., I got a text message from him telling me to look at WhatsApp. He was unable to retrieve the money from Western Union in Portland. After spending nearly two yours working with him, the Western Union rep in Portland and a Western Union rep I connected with through corporate, it was determined that Western Union had messed up.

The transaction wouldn’t work. I’d have to cancel it in person back at the Safeway where I made the original transaction and would have to try again. It was too late to deal with it that evening, so I’d have to go back in the morning. Meanwhile, my friend had no cash. So I wired him $200 out of my own account to hold him over.

You’re thinking – why would you give him money? I did it because I was confident I’d get a refund from Western Union the next day and I could take the $200 out of the $950 I wired him (the amount left over after paying all the fees to send his wallet and to wire him the funds).

I got up early the next morning to get to Western Union at Safeway before I started my workday. The same clerk who helped me the day before was there but said she couldn’t open the Western Union computer until 9. So I returned around noon to try again. This time I was able to get the $950 refund. But Western Union failed to refund the $90 fee! The Safeway clerk patiently worked with them and even continued to work with Western Union after I left for a previously scheduled appointment. At this point, I heard from my friend that his wallet had arrived – completely intact with all his cancelled credit cards and two forms of ID in it.

I went back a few hours later and got the $90 fee, which Western Union finally reimbursed to for. I deposited all the money in my own bank account, believing it would be easier to make the transfer from my own bank account by calling Western Union, rather than trying to make a cash transfer like I did at the Western Union at Safeway. The previous night I was able to send $200 from my own account over the phone. Ultimately, after another 45 minutes on the phone, which included three debit card and one credit card rejections, that method worked. My friend was able to retrieve his money at a Western Union kiosk at a Safeway in Portland and he was on his way! He sent me a photo of the cash in hand at 6:47 p.m.

Why am I writing about this? First off, it’s a pretty crazy story. Secondly, it proves that sometimes people do the right thing. Many people did the right thing to help out this foreign traveler – everyone from the person who found the wallet and contacted him via LinkedIn to all the clerks along the way to the nice Airbnb experience host (that’s me).

That said, I will never use Western Union again. It so saddened me to see the unbanked who were behind me in line who had to waste so much time and spend so much in exorbitant fees to transfer money.

Ironically, during the midst of this, a memory popped up on my Facebook page from July 22, 2014, where I wrote a post about a stranger in New Jersey who found my son’s cell phone at the airport and turned it in to Verizon. Verizon checked the serial number, called me, and mailed it back.

It’s true. Humans can be … well, human! I told my new friend that the next time I’m in Riyadh he’d owe me dinner. He told me to call. And he left me with this message with a photo of a Starbucks drink he bought with a gift card I tucked into his wallet: “I am heading home, I just want to say thank you again for what you did for me. U safe my trip and make it great. Thank you for the last coffee in state.”


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