Bank Nightmare 惡夢銀行
I have not updated my website for weeks. That's due to my bank demanded to know the reason for my paying a good friend £100, then said the reason was unacceptable hence blocking my account for weeks, making me angry, anxious and ill...
Internet Banking Nightmare
I am vulnerable and have been in self-isolation during COVID lockdown. A good friend who cannot form a bubble with me consented to help whenever – such as to buy and deliver to my door an urgently needed electric fire; collect and post parcels for me...etc. I sent him cheques FOR him to KEEP some money to pay for whatever I need whenever. Money I sent him has nearly been spent. As the postal service has been affected by COVID, I thought it might be simpler to top it up using Internet banking.
I logged on Internet banking. When I filled in to pay my friend's account £100, I was asked for a reason of payment. I thought that was just a reference for the recipient and for my own record so I filled in "For keep." – short for what's underlined (in bold) in the previous paragraph. When log on was blocked, I tried Chat but it kept showing messages of no concern to me. When I asked for a person it said no one was available and showed a phone number.
Overzealous Scam Team & incompetent Complaint Resolution
I telephoned and was asked many "security" questions by one person, then passed to another to asked even more questions. Questions asked were excessive, intrusive, personal and repetitive. I had to answer my mother's maiden name three times; details of my last money in and money out though the last bank statement I received was not up to date; the exact amount I paid for my last Tesco shopping; my old address of about 15 years ago including postal code; what is this person that I pay £100 and when how where I met him, and why I wanted to pay him... Though I explained what "For keep." meant repeatedly I was told that was not an acceptable reason. I told the bank staff I had read all that about scam written on the account yet she insisted to read all that to me again... In the end she said I was not to use the account for I can't remember how many hours and that the money would take some time to get through. This Internet banking took nearly two hours. Though I was infuriated, I told the bank staff I was not interested in getting involved with complaint procedures – I had had enough! I felt exhausted and ill after all this but thought at least that's the end of the matter. Little did I know that's only the beginning.
The bank's Complaint Resolution telephoned some days later and I had to answer security questions and explained what "For keep." meant again. The man appeared to understand but said this was a Scam Case that needed investigation. I said I'd pay my friend by cheque then, but he said my account, transactions and cheque use had all been blocked.
Complaint Resolution telephoned again the week after and said "For keep." was not acceptable and thus still under Scam Team investigation. I explained what that meant again but he said scammers would say things like what I said. So, was I suspected as a scammer scamming myself, or my friend was the suspect, or were both of us suspected of scamming me? He said I would always have to give a reason for each payment and it's up to the bank whether or not to provide the service. He said he could do nothing and could not tell when I would be lifted from being barred from transferring money or using cheques. He said there's no point for me to go to my local branch.
I then received a letter from Head of Complaints thanking me for contacting them but I'd never contacted them. It's frustrating that according to the Complaint Resolution man he could do nothing because my case had to be investigated by the Scam Team, so why kept giving me Complaints Dept. that has no power to resolve the case?
Arbitrary, unfair to me and others
It does not make sense that all because of my filling in "For keep." as the reason for transferring £100 to a good friend, bank staff arbitrary decided this as a scam case needing investigation. Though I was deigned to still use my bank card, there are people I need to pay and cannot pay with a bank card. The following is just an example:
I have written music in 12 acts called Song & Dance of a 3-Time Cancer Survivor. Due to COVID, ensemble performers cannot work together, so each has to record their part at home then transfer online as music files for me to process. Whenever I have received a certain amount of music files, I need to pay the performer. Even if my account is unblocked, I would not dare to transfer the payment online – how can I expect some nameless/faceless bank staff to understand my brief description of this and not to assume the payment as scam again? I can only pay by cheque. COVID hits musicians hard as many performing venues have been closed and performances cancelled. Arbitrary blocking cheque use is unfair to musicians expecting the payment for their livelihood.
How to end this farce?
To avoid catching COVID, I don't go to Town Centre. Despite not going out, I managed to keep walking into things or hurting my leg/knee/foot somehow indoor. I still had a wound not yet healed and was not walking well. After my account was blocked for three weeks with no foreseeable end, I limped to the bank's local branch in Town Centre, disregarding the Complaint Resolution man said there's no point for me to do so. The lady I saw at the branch tried to unblock my account and telephoned some department. She said she had checked I was really me but the person on the other end insisted on speaking to me. I was then questioned by one man then passed onto another, going through the same routine: "security" questions; explaining what "For keep." meant and be told that was not acceptable; be read all about scam... What I resented most was the way he asked about my friend and I : whether I met him online; exactly how long did I know him – a short while, one year or two years...; was I sure my friend had never put pressure on me to give him money; did he always give me a bill of what he bought for me and did I check it; had he ever been dishonest... I told the man I had already asked the lady at the local branch to delete my online account as I never want to use their Online Banking again but to use cheques instead. That man still said they could stop my cheques...
Why so ridiculous?
Friends and acquaintances who use Internet banking all said they never had to give a reason to their banks for paying someone. Perhaps that's due to this is a Spanish bank? An English neighbour said perhaps it's due to my un-english name and accent that I was treated like this. I remember the Complaint Resolution man said scammers would say things like what I said. I wondered whether there's a list for checking, so I googled "How to identify a scammer".
The list includes:
Odd-looking name (yes I have);
Can't communicate ("For keep." as reason of payment, I suppose?);
Hesitation (not able to answer straight away the exact amount I spent at Tesco or the postal code of where I lived 15 years ago...etc.);
Tone of conversation become heated (yes, talking to these bank staff on the phone made me angry every time);
A sense of urgency (yes, I needed to use cheques and to transfer money, and soon.);
Threatening (I asked for the name/contact of their CEO?)
There are more...
Yet, all along those who had spoken to me on the phone only said "For keep." was unacceptable hence a scam case. No matter how many times I explained what that meant, they just wouldn't let go.
I then googled Customer Service Reviews of this bank and saw low ratings, especially on Internet Banking, IT standard, unpleasant telephone conversations, dealing with complains, lack of empathy for the elderly and vulnerable... I was particularly alarmed to see that for "security", the bank blocked a woman's account, making life difficult for her during COVID, and also blocking some others' bank access for same, and regularly... All these made me feel concerned about Hongkongers who might unwittingly stumble into similar situation with a bank while making their new homes in the UK.
Concerns for Hong Kongers
Though I have lived most of my life in England, I spent my early years in Hong Kong when it was British. Now, Hong Kongers eligible for BNO who fear the increasingly controlling Authority and "security" law may have already fled to the UK. More will do so. BNO is but a visa and they need to bring in money to support themselves and their dependents for at least six years. Like me, they have un-english names, an accent and will resent their bank demanding to know why they pay someone. Their Hong Kong English may be interpreted as unacceptable reason and hence, scam. Excessive, intrusive and personal questions that they must answer will agitate them, bringing back memories of bad happenings that made them flee the Hong Kong that they love – the Hong Kong where many from all over the world came to make their fortunes. Arbitrary blocking their accounts for weeks is likely to cause these Hong Kongers great inconvenience when they need to make many transactions for setting up their new home and business. I feel I should let them know of my experience so that they will be more careful in choosing a bank and in dealing with bank staff, especially when using telephone banking. There are many things they will need to learn about – it's a different culture and society over here.
I now feel insecure with my bank
Employees only do what they are told by those higher up and to carry out policies decided by them. I emailed the bank's CEO about my experience and said that it shows there are problems in their policies and staff training. I also took a copy in letter form to the local branch and asked them to forward to the the CEO. So far I haven't even received an acknowledgement. The bank is closing the local branch in a few months – i.e., from then on I can only use their Internet or Telephone Banking if I don't want to travel to another town where a branch is still open. It will be hard for those who are too vulnerable to travel or not adept in IT, and those who do not like talking to strangers on the phone.
On the phone, in the name of "security", staff asked excessive, intrusive and personal questions. They are faceless, nameless and total strangers to me yet they can falsely accuse me and my friend, to block my account for weeks, and I don't even know who and why. Talking with staff face to face is fine. To communicate in black and white is fine too. Using the phone is the worst. The following is another ridiculous experience:
Many years ago, I was persuaded to change my telephone/Internet service to TalkTalk. Soon my phone/Internet/emails all had problems. I was told there's nothing TalkTalk could do because I was not able to tell them my correct name. At the time, TalkTalk used telephone staff based in India, probably to save cost. Apparently an Indian staff in India whom I had difficulty in understanding his English (no doubt, vice versa) entered my un-english name incorrectly into the system, and I was expected to know what that name was! After many weeks, finally I managed to speak to the secretary of some director and put things right. At least TalkTalk said sorry and paid me forty odd pounds as compensation.
I want to know whether it's only this bank or all banks in England can subject customers to an ordeal for no good reason at all. Meanwhile, I will only keep just enough money in this bank to pay standing orders and direct debits.
1. UK's economy suffers because of COVID. Many lost their jobs or business. Apparently there have been more scams going on. I can understand the bank wants to do something about it, but when I have proved it's really me and that's how I wish to spend my money, it should stop at that. Otherwise the customer becomes a victim of bank harassment rather than a scam victim.
2. It's my money, and how I want to spend it is my business. Is it right the bank should know/approve of the reason of payment?
3. Is it right that the bank can let its staff to question a customer excessively, including personal matters and ask a lot of questions about the payee? It was humiliating that in order to put an end to my account blockage, I succumbed and answered questions that were really none of their business.
4. On the phone, many times I was told it's up to the bank whether or not to provide the service – as if I should be grateful and just have to put up with whatever whenever. If it is so, how can one feel safe to entrust one's money to a bank?
5. Raised by an English friend after reading my article:
Discrimination amongst a huge group of the working population who are unfamiliar with foreign names and Hong Kong English (for example) is too common; they are not trained to understand that many customers come from different countries, have different names and different Englishes. This creates huge and unnecessary problems for people and I can understand your concern for fellow Hong Kongers coming to this beleaguered one-time “mother country” where they will be treated as foreigners. This is so so sad.
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