True money stories from smart people: Bank robbery? It’s a white collar job now
Times were that when you got robbed you knew very well that it had happened. Faced with a weapon in your face and threats hissed through clenched teeth, you had to hand over the readies.
Bank robberies were similarly clear. To access piles of cash and gold bars, the bad’uns either drilled their way into the vaults or held up the cashiers with a sawn-off shotgun and a poorly fitting pair of Pretty Pollys.
But technology has robbed the robbers of a traditional trade. It’s brain before brawn now and the new cyber-thieves are robbing us without even breathing in our faces.
You can lose tens of thousands of pounds in the comfort of your own home and not even know it’s happened until weeks afterwards.
Even then, you don’t have the satisfaction of knowing who did it. It’s like having mice in the house: you don’t hear them or know where they are, you’re just aware of the droppings in the morning.
A few months ago, my neighbours and I were horrified to discover that money had been taken out of our accounts and our credit cards had been used. In the case of one neighbour, a fake company had been set up in her name complete with bank details, date of birth and home address.
Frantically we went round cancelling cards, blocking phone banking and changing PINs, but the robberies kept on.While some banks did query odd and out-of-character purchases, others were as leaky as a Panamanian law firm. It took weeks to properly plug the mouseholes.
At one point a neighbour who was treasurer of the house (we have a general account that we all pay into for the service charge) rang me up, saying,“Dear, is your business doing all right? You’ve just transferred £6,000 from the house account into your account and a Mrs Rodriguez has taken the rest.” And indeed she had.
Someone with a foreign accent had used my name to transfer money all over the place while we looked the other way.The fact that this account had never had more than one transaction a year, never undertaken by me and never on the phone hadn’t alerted the bank’s security team.
We looked around for the culprit, going first for the usual fall guys, the cleaners and then to Airbnb guests. Strangers and contractors were made as welcome as Mexicans at a Trump rally and new door security was ordered. But still the cash was dribbling away.
Finally, we realised that it was nothing to do with our house, but a criminal gang operating in the Post Office sorting office. They stole credit cards, statements and PINs, taking our cash by cutting out the middleman without even entering a bank. No one knew what had happened until it was too late.
Sure, we got our money back – the banks ultimately were the losers – and ActionFraud is on the case, but it’s still annoying that they had us and it was all so easy.
Why can’t our financial controllers be as silently successful when it comes to running the country’s economy?
As George Osbourne and the Office for Budget Responsibility make ever more preposterous predictions for the UK economy and fail even to make a dent in the deficit, you can’t help wondering whether perhaps these fraudsters would do a better job.They could pretend to be Xi Jinping and transfer a wad of cash from the Chinese economy to ours without the nuisance of having to actually sell them something.
Or maybe we could hand the economy over to the people who send emails from a Nigerian astronaut stuck in space – he needs another £50 to get him down and share his $15 million fortune with me.Those people seem to have a way with money.
Wouldn’t it be lovely if our banks and law enforcers could get a few steps ahead of these tenacious tricksters in the first place?
Data protection is a wonderful thing, but when it comes to fraud, a judicious bit of data sharing would trap these vermin and protect our hard-earned cash once and for all.