Bank fraud is, of course, a considerable worry. The last thing you want is to walk up to the ATM machine and discover that all your hard-earned money has disappeared. It could really ruin your evening out. So the recent Northern Rock debacle came as something of a shock. Until this all happened, I’d always assumed that banks are regulated correctly, and thus there would be measures in place to prevent banks collapsing or Mr Barclays running over the hillside with a large bag marked “swag”.
Then again, I’ve always found it hard to see how money can miraculously disappear for whole days at a time when you send some to a friend who uses a different bank. Apparently, it’s “in the system”, stirring a vision of a tired chap in a brown coat wheeling a wheelbarrow from Barclays to NatWest, loaded with bundles of fivers. It might get to your friend on Friday, or it might be the following Monday – depends on how well Old Fred gets on and whether his barrow gets stuck in a rut in the pavement.
Naturally, these limitations are not imposed on those people who are blessed with real money. Want to send £10 million from A to B? It’s just a mouse click away. Want to drop half a billion into a bank for a cosy overnighter? No problem. The system copes just fine for Them. It’s Us it has a problem with. I can’t even call the Business Banker at my local Barclays branch – I have to phone a call centre. Worse still, HSBC recently limited counter services at one of its Dorset branches to customers who hold a type of account that requires an annual salary of around £75,000.
Fortunately, or so you’d think, the website has revolutionised banking and made such trips unnecessary. After all, I can do almost everything I need to online, and thus have no need to make a trip to the hallowed halls. And, since the banks are pushing everyone to call centres or online, you’d expect a fully computerised system to be whizzy beyond belief, wouldn’t you? Well if you do you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
Barclays, my bank, seems to keep only a few weeks of data online, which is a real pain when you come to do the quarterly VAT return, only to find that one sheet from eight weeks ago has gone walkabout. Look it up online? No sir, we don’t hold that much data. Odd, you’d think it would have some bigger hard disks that postponed the moment before all the information was laboriously transferred to parchment and quill ink.
Now, Barclays has upgraded the security on the website. Until a week ago, I had to remember a long account number. And then a second number, too. And then had to choose two letters from a secure word. It seemed pretty good enough to me, but obviously wasn’t enough for those people who fall prey to the phishing exploits. I’ve lost count of the number of attempts I’ve received by email urging me to log into a website that looks just like Barclays and then to hand over all the letters of my secret word. Apparently, some people actually do this, and then wonder why all their money has disappeared.
To counter the phishers, Barclays introduced a system whereby you couldn’t pay anyone new without a mandatory 24-hour delay in the processing – presumably to give my business banker time to catch Old Fred with his wheelbarrow, and to put the contents back into my current account.
But even that wasn’t secure enough for Barclays. So now I’ve been given what’s known as a PINsentry device. This looks very much like a My First Calculator with big buttons, into which I have to insert my debit card. Then, on the website, I have to enter the last four digits of the card, and enter my pin number into the PINsentry device. This then spits out an eight-digit number, for me to type into the website.