If you’re going abroad and intend to use your debit or credit card, the banks advise that you tell them before you go. This is so that when their software detects a deviation from your normal spending pattern, they’ll know the reason.
They don’t advise you by phone or letter or in ads, of course. You won’t see it printed on your statement. In fact they keep the advice pretty much to themselves, until you get home and complain that your card was unaccountably refused when you tried to buy a rail ticket in Segovia, for example. That’s when they advise you.
Next time, they say, you should inform us when you intend to go abroad. Thanks a bunch, you say. But you remember the advice and, next time you’ve got an overseas trip coming up, you set about giving the bank a call. Which is what I did the other week.
You have a cunning plan. You just don’t know what it is yet
For the purposes of this story, let’s pretend you’re a criminal – go on, let’s – and you intend to defraud a bank using my credit card. In fact, let’s make it even more interesting by pretending that you’ve also got hold of me. You’re holding me in your evil lair, bound and helpless and ready to divulge all the security details of my credit card. This is, after all, the sort of scenario the banks must have in mind when they devise their stringent security procedures.
So. You’ve got me, you’ve got my card and you’ve got a phone. It isn’t strictly accurate to say you’ve also got the beginnings of a plan, because you haven’t. In fact, you haven’t a fucking clue how you’re going to go about defrauding the bank. This explains why you didn’t just walk into Currys and buy loads of things with plugs on the end of them or visit the nearest cashpoint armed with my PIN. Instead of these obvious options, you call the number on the back of the credit card. It’s entirely plausible that all sorts of frauds start that way. Isn’t it? LloydsTSB evidently thinks so.
Off to a bad start
You call the number and listen to the options, none of them being particularly appropriate to the scheme you haven’t hatched yet. In fact, the final option tells you that if you want to talk about your credit card, you have to call a different number entirely. Eh? So why wasn’t this the number featured on the back of the card? Never mind. You call this new number. You’re gonna get rich!
The master criminal gets to work
When the automated phone service asks you to key in the credit card number, you’re all prepared. Tap tap tap tap. Same with the security number. Tap tap tap. This is so easy! Then it asks you to key in my date of birth. You prod me with a stick. Ow! I tell you, and you key it in. A human comes to the phone and greets you by name.
“Hello Mr Newmalden, you’re through to LloydsTSB, how can I help you?”
You’re in! Time to enact the crime of the century.
“Hi there. Well it’s just that I’m going abroad soon, and I believe you advise customers to alert you beforehand.”
You idiot! Why the fuck did you say that? Call yourself a criminal? How on earth do you think saying that will make you any richer or buy you more stuff? It sounds like the single most implausible crime in the history of criminality. But that doesn’t stop it setting off an alarm in the call centre lady’s head. Ah, the old ‘I’m going abroad’ ruse. She won’t fall for that one too easily.
“I see. I’ll just have to run through a few security questions with you.”
What? More security? No matter. You get ready with the stick.
“Could you give me the third and fifth characters of your password, please?”
“Sure. The third and fifth characters of my password, you say?”
I blurt them out without the need for any prodding.
“It’s c and j”, you say. You’re driving a bulldozer through the bank’s so-called security!
“And are there any other account holders on this card?”
“Any other account holders?”
I shake my head.
“OK. What was the last balance payment you made to the card?”
You repeat the question, and I tell you that I paid the entire balance off.
“He, I mean I paid the full amount”, you say.
“Yes, but what was the amount?”
“Er, the amount, let’s see…”
You prod me with the stick, but I don’t know the actual figure. I think it was around £700.
“It was about £700.”
“No! I want the ACTUAL AMOUNT!”
You prod, jab and thwack me with the stick, but it won’t help. I’m tied up in a master criminal’s secret lair, not sitting at my desk at home. You give up with me and resort to guesswork.
“Incorrect. You have failed the security test. I cannot proceed with your request.”
Bank 1, Customer 0
Your fraudulent shoulders sag, your criminal spirits slump. This totally mad scheme to prise money out of my account through the expedient of pretending that you’re going abroad and, er, well, you hadn’t really thought any further than that, has come to nothing. You untie me and go back to your previous job as a procurement clerk in Thanet.
This, then, was the end result of my attempt to act on the advice that banks (quietly) give their customers about going on holiday. The thing is, there’s no way I could easily have answered that last question because I just don’t carry that sort of information around with me. Who does? But in the security-obsessed world inhabited by the mindless jobsworths who concoct such tests, this isn’t good enough.
The lady at the bank probably congratulated herself and the bank’s ‘robust’ security for thwarting yet another dastardly plot to commit a heinous crime, when all they did was piss a customer off.