Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Letter of the Day | Bank washes hands off online scamming victim

Published:Monday | September 18, 2023 | 12:06 AM


As previously written by me, the banks have chased us all out of their bank branches into outdoor ATMs and onto our keyboards. Heaven help those of us afraid to be ‘Berylliumed’, or are not computer/smartphone-literate. There has been a recent avalanche of calls to my office from bank customers who have been fleeced by online banking predators. Listen to this horror online scamming story.

Mary Jane, my client, some two weeks ago responded to a targeted SMS (text) blast which showed up in her normal bank SMS (text message) chain. Mary Jane, being a long-standing customer of one of our prominent banks, clicked on an invitation as she was used to doing throughout her online banking life, and was taken to the bank’s online platform. She noted an invitation to apply for a $1.4m loan, to which she declined. Arising from that click on the SMS invitation, all hell broke loose for her. The hacker gained access to her PIN, and hence was now able to take over her account. Unknown to her, the hacker emptied her hard-earned $1.2m savings and went on to make an online application for a loan for $1.4 m. Once granted, the hacker immediately emptied it. Mary Jane now has a ‘loan’ which the bank is insisting she repays.

Of note is the fact that though the bank had a half a million maximum daily withdrawal limit, the thief was able to take out three times that daily maximum. The bank is not accepting liability for this penetration of their virtual, and human-less, loan-processing scheme. The ‘bye bye’ response from the bank when written to, was the usual template-type recitation which ended with “while we are unable to provide further assistance ... we do hope that there will be a satisfactory resolution”. The banks have all opted to go virtual and paperless and, consequently, have declared their high-paying positions redundant, leaving us customers at the risk of hackers.

The bank has been turning away our fleeced clients, sending them to the police, rather than taking full responsibility and compensating them for their vulnerable online banking platforms. The litany of complaints are mounting like a volcano out of control. They range from month-end cluttering of their systems, denying workers access to their wages, to having us chasing malfunctioning ATM machines like dogs chasing their elusive tails. They have often brought commerce to a standstill. The calls for the state to intervene on our behalf and bell this banking cat are numerous. Banking ranks as a social service similar to water, phone service, and electricity. The Office of Utilities Regulation is mandated to protect consumers, and to deal with minimum standards in relation to these services. Where is the Government’s effort to protect us when the bank exposes its customers to the real risk of losing their life’s savings to scammers? In the past, all we feared was the armed bank robber. Today, that robber is relaxed in the safety of his room, armed with a smartphone in hand and reaping that which he did not sow.

We are not unaware of the fact that the banks are a powerful lobbyist bunch who hold a strong influence over our political parties, and hence our political directorate. They continue, and are permitted, to get their way with us all, while we load the pockets of their billionaire CEOs. All this is continuing as they stand by, indifferent to the losses of customers who collectively fund their superprofits.