whose money is it, anyway?


you would suppose, in this country, that the money you deposit into your bank account is yours, for you to withdraw and spend as you please, whenever you want? certainly, if you went into a branch of your bank, you would want to have the ability to withdraw cash for whatever purpose you saw fit? well, let me tell you about what happened today, in the high street kensington branch of the royal bank of scotland...

i asked to withdraw a (largish) sum of money from my account, over GBP 1000.00 basically. naturally, the cashier wanted identification. i produced my bank card, and my current, valid, british passport. these were accepted, along with a cheque, written out right there, from a complete cheque book, for the amount, payable to 'CASH' and signed, again in front of the cashier. there followed a lengthy (~10 minutes) phone conversation, which i couldn't hear, presumably with my branch. this resulted in 4 (four) pages of faxed copies of a photocopy of my passport and bank card and signature, made at my branch in edinburgh when the account was opened (i was actually a member of staff at the time, so identity checks were even more rigorous). once my identity had been confirmed here in london satisfactorily, the cashier began to fill in a 'large withdrawal pro-forma' document. this went along fine, with me supplying my full name and the amount of my money i wished to withdraw, until i was asked 'can you tell me why you want this cash?' this struck me as an unnecessary and pointless question, so i answered 'no!' apparently, this is beyond the scope of a 'large withdrawl pro-forma' and appeared to be unacceptable. i offered other suggestions, such as 'customer did not say' and 'none' and similar, however the cashier insisted that these could not be entered into the (paper) form. being a curious sort, i asked why, and was told the magic words 'fraud' and 'security' . i can't even begin to imagine what kind of fraud is prevented by asking an (authenticated) customer why they want to withdraw their money. anyway, an impasse appeared to have been reached here, and the only solution proffered was for the chief cashier to be summoned. i was warned that this may take some time (i had been trying to complete the transaction for 15-20 minutes by then, and the cashier was obviously in an office about ten meters away) however i graciously agreed to wait, and sat down to read the copy of terror inc - tracing the money behind global terrorism that i had just bought. (sadly, nobody noticed. i don't know why i bother, sometimes...)

the result of all this is that i was unable to withdraw my money from my bank account in a branch of my bank. i believe i may have said some inappropriate words to the cashier, chief cashier and other assorted bank staff who had gathered to watch the proceedings. my incredulity at being unable to complete what i assumed was an everyday banking requirement seemed to baffle and confuse them. i even ventured outside to the atm and withdrew a (smaller than i needed) sum to show that i was indeed allowed to obtain and use my own money. since it was too late for me to do anything useful, even if they had relented and done the right thing, i simply shouted and stormed out. after a calming cigarette or four, i decided to phone the head office. there i spoke to a nice young lady who gave the same reason - it is part of anti money-laundering safeguards put in place to stop fraud and terrorism and the like. however, once i pointed out that, supposing i was minded to take my money and do something illegal with it, i didn't think that the prospect of having to lie and tell a cashier that i needed the money for a second-hand car purchase, rather than say, buying raw opium from afghanistan which i intended to exchange for plastic explosives in libya, would really bother me. strangely, she immediately accepted this, as did her supervisor, and they apologised, admitting that it seemed like the wrong kind of security question to have asked. i still don't have the money i need, though, so i'm going to have to try again tomorrow. this time, though, i will go there a lot earlier, just in case...

is it just me, or are these pointless invasions of privacy really, really, annoying? i can see absolutely no basis in law for the question, and as i pointed out, a criminal will just make something up! so there is no security gained or fraud prevented. actually, it's not just me - see bruce schneier's weblog, passim, for plenty of similar examples, and weep.

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