Don't bank on easy access to your own money ...

... and watch out for 'vishing' expeditions, says the FOS

Customers at one of our biggest banks, HSBC, were told they couldn't take out large sums of cash from their bank accounts without explaining how they planned to spend the money. Many people have reacted angrily to the idea of such restrictions, but is this really an imposition on your freedom, or simply the best way for banks to protect their customers?

When you consider the mis-selling scandals, Libor rigging and excessive charges that have plagued Britain's banks, it's understandable that people are outraged by recent stories of customers being refused large cash withdrawals. Issues arose when HSBC quietly introduced new guidelines back in November 2013 asking staff to question the intentions of customers requesting large sums. Something got lost in translation and the bank admits some branches took this a step too far by refusing requests.

"By imposing restrictions upon customer withdrawals at a time when some bank analysts are pointing at HSBC's balance sheet, all the bank has succeeded in doing is stoking rumours," said Joel Benjamin of anti-bank campaign group Move Your Money. "If HSBC wants to impose restrictions upon the withdrawal of customer money, then it should start by being more transparent, revealing where customers' deposits are actually invested," he added.

HSBC has now explained that it is not mandatory for customers to provide documentary evidence for large cash transactions, and that failure to show evidence is not enough of a reason for staff to refuse a withdrawal or deposit, unless they are virtually certain of fraud.

"We apologise to any customer who has been given incorrect information and inconvenienced, and have since updated guidance to staff," said James Thorpe, a spokesman for HSBC.

Similar policies are actually in place at other banks and building societies; for example, Santander says that it may ask for additional ID or proof of the reason for large withdrawals and in some cases, the branch may not physically have enough cash available, so the bank asks for a couple of days notice when requests are made for large amounts, such as £5,000 in cash.

It seems sensible for banks to ask for notice before customers withdraw several thousand pounds over the counter – cash stocks are limited, particularly in smaller branches – but do they really need to know how you plan to spend your own money?

The banks say that these questions help to prevent fraud and in fairness they do have a duty of care towards customers, as well as legal obligations to prevent money-laundering. If you are asked by workmen to pay in cash, you may well be helping them to avoid paying tax. There is also "vishing" (voice phishing) and "courier fraud" whereby scammers phone customers posing as a member of the police or the bank. Upon telling them that their account has been hacked, customers are then urged to hand over their cards and withdraw cash to give to a motorcycle courier for safekeeping, never to see it again.

It isn't a very sophisticated scam, but these fraudsters also tell you to call the number on the back of your card or 999 for verification – in reality they do not hang up but stay on the line so that you are still speaking to them or one of their associates. The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) says it has seen an increase in these scams, with more than one hundred complaints referred to them in the last six months.

"Vishing and courier fraud target some of the most vulnerable people in society by duping them into transferring money directly into criminals' accounts, or handing over bank cards and personal identification numbers to couriers – in some extreme cases people have also handed over cash or jewellery," says Rory Stoves of the FOS.

Banks are also increasingly cautious about fraudulent credit and debit card activity abroad. When you use your card overseas, it is marked as an "abnormal" spending pattern and if you haven't told your bank you're going away, it may stop your card without warning. Not all banks will automatically block cards being used overseas but they might if an unusually large transaction or cash withdrawal is taking place. Banks and credit card firms often ring customers when they see a suspicious transaction so make sure they have your current mobile number.

If you inform your bank beforehand, you can usually avoid problems. Santander will put a "holiday flag" on your account and it can flag up to five destinations in one trip over a 90-day period. Issues can still arise, however, so play it safe and bring a 24-hour phone number with you so that you can release the block as quickly as possible.

It may also be worthwhile having more than one card to pay a bill, as you don't want the embarrassment and even potential legal consequences of being unable to pay a bill in a foreign country. In the UK you may be allowed to leave an address and then pay at a later date, but overseas the police could be called, which would certainly put a dampener on any break.

Ombudsman top tips

If you are worried about a call, phone the police non-emergency number 101 from a different handset, or allow five minutes for the line to clear

Police and banks will never ask for your PIN, bank details or cards. If you are called by someone who does, hang up.

Keep passwords and PINs safe – don't write them down.

If the call sounds suspicious or too good to be true, you may be right.

Check statements regularly for transactions you do not recognise.

Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
News
We are phenomenally good at recognising faces; the study showed that humans have been selected to be unique and easily recognisable
science

Human faces unique 'because we don't recognise each other by smell'

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show?
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Colin Firth and Emma Stone star together in Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's 1920s romance

Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Life and Style
The findings suggest that some of the genetic factors which influence birth size may play a part in influencing an infant’s mental development
health...while smaller babies have greater schizophrenia risk, study claims
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Consultant - Soho - IT, Pharma, Public Sector

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35,000 first year: SThree: The SThree group i...

    Sales Executive

    £20 - 24k (Uncapped Commission - £35k Year 1 OTE): Guru Careers: We are seekin...

    Payroll & Accounts Assistant

    £20 - 24k + Benefits: Guru Careers: This is a great opportunity for an enthusi...

    SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £280 - £320 p/d - 6 months

    £280 - £320 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week