Who is fraud protection meant to protect? You or your bank?
Try to use your debit or credit card abroad this summer and the chances are you will find it blocked. That's the bank stopping it -- "for your protection", they say. In fact it's for their protection.
Last weekend in Rome, I put my card into a bank machine, entered my pin, and it was returned. The husband tried and the same thing happened to him. I rang my bank, HSBC, and the first person I spoke to said that it had indeed been stopped. The second person said it hadn't. But, she asked, had I informed them that I would be in Rome? No, I hadn't. So at some length and expense I went through my up-coming trips, and the card didn't have any problems after that (though see below!). The husband tried to ring his bank, but couldn't remember his telephone banking code, so decided to leave it.
A couple of hours later, of course, he got a call asking him to ring the fraud protection department of Lloyds TSB. Now, a few weeks earlier, his card had been blocked in Cairo and he had asked if he could notify them in advance when he was away (like I can with the HSBC), No, they said. but this Cairo incident was just a random check, and was very unlikely to happen. Well it did happen again. And so he had a ten minute plus phone call to Lloyds from the Palatine Museum, at his expense, convincing them that it was he who had tried to withdraw 200 euros.
Annoying and irritating, and -- despite the line that it is all in your interest -- this is simply trying to save the banks' money (for they are liable for fraudulent transactions) at the cost of your mobile phone bill. We reckoned we had spent 10 to 15 pounds on our mobiles to get all this sorted.
But worse was to come.
On Monday Lloyds TSB rang up home for the son, as his card had been used in Cairo (where he is, doing an Arabic course).
The husband tried to explain that the son really was in Cairo. But this fell on deaf ears: data protection meant that they would only talk to the son himself. So the husband decided to go to the branch, who have in the past been helpful.
They were again, but they didn't actually get anywhere. They rang the fraud protection department, who said they would only talk to the son...but, as he was in Egypt, he would have to ring them (no, they couldn't ring him on an Egyptian mobile).
The nice lady at the branch explained that Lloyds had a computer that simply blocked cards when they were used in places where card fraud was common. The son had indeed rung his telephone banking department before he left the UK -- but there was no connection between the usual telephone banking system and fraud protection. It was just his bad luck that he was in Egypt (or us in Rome, for that matter).
The husband asked the branch to ring the number that the son was supposed to call to reactivate the card, to see whether it would be easy for him to get through. After 13 minutes on hold they gave up.
Now there is a safety issue here. You have someone in Cairo wanting to withdraw money. They cannot withdraw money without phoning the bank. They have an Egyptian pay as you go phone, but not enough credit to hang on for more than 13 minutes. They cant buy more credit because they cant get any money to buy it. Catch 22 eh?
Having no money in foreign countries is dangerous. So this system saves the banks cash at the cost of endangering the customer. (What the hell are you supposed to do? Take cash to Egypt...??)
So I decided to ring the fraud protection number that the son was supposed to ring -- and ask when would be a good time for him to ring if he only had a few minutes credit. Then the law of "there is always a decent person in the most dreadful organisations' came into play. After 25 minutes holding on, I got through to a woman. I explained the son's problem. "Give me his Egyptian mobile number," she said. "I'll call him and sort it out"
Which she did.
But there is an ironic sequel to this (and perhaps serves me right). I have just looked at my bank statement online and there really is a fraudulent transaction there -- a cash machine withdrawal made in Rome after I had left. I still have my card. I never let it out of my sight. How could this have happened?