Are high-street banks getting lax on security as they rush to sign up migrants?

By Sue Hayward
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The Independent Online

British banks are vying to tempt new arrivals from Eastern Europe, and in particular Poland, to open bank accounts with them. Lloyds TSB and NatWest both operate accounts solely for Polish citizens, and several banks, including Barclays, are recruiting Polish-speaking advisers to work in branches.

But in their dash to capture new customers, are the banks putting security and identity theft on the back burner?

Lloyds TSB and NatWest require only one form of photographic identification, such as a passport or an EU identity card, to open an account. In contrast, UK residents switching high-street banks will have to produce two or even three official documents.

While there is as yet no evidence to show that accounts held by Polish nationals are being used to perpetrate fraud, the banks' relaxed approach concerns some fraud experts. "This leaves them wide open to abuse," says Andrew Goodwill, managing director of security advisers Early Warning UK. "Someone can come over for a week and open a bank account. I'd like to see at least six months' UK residency required."

In response, the banking industry points out that people from Eastern Europe need banking services now rather than six months after their arrival.

Brian Capon from the British Bankers' Association says the accounts are a "low fraud risk as they do not come with an overdraft facility". A NatWest spokes-man says its decision to ask for only one proof of identity is "responding to the need of the Polish community". New arrivals are unlikely to have such things as utility or council tax bills.

Abi Jones from the Financial Services Authority, the City watchdog, says that under its rules, banks are doing nothing wrong: "The number of pieces and types of identification [required to open an account] is not set in stone. Providing they can prove they've carried out checks to guard against potential money laundering, it's down to the bank."

The Polish market represents potentially big business for UK banks. "You're talking about nearly a million people in the UK," says Douglas McWilliams from the Centre for Economics and Business Research consultancy. "The real profits to be made are in international money transfers if banks can offer a good deal to people looking after the family by sending money home."

'Very easy' to open – with travel insurance thrown in

Lukasz Lasocki, 31, a history teacher from Wroclaw, Poland, came to the UK to improve his English and took a job in a north London branch of the Starbucks coffee chain.

He needed a bank account for his earnings to be paid into. "It's hard to manage without one if you're working," he says. He opted for Lloyds TSB's specialist Silver account, designed for Poles. "They advertised Polish-speaking staff and I only needed to take along my passport to open an account," he goes on. "It was very easy."

Unlike most British bank customers, Lukasz has to pay a monthly fee – in his case, £7.95 – for his bank's services. But this does not worry him: "I get free travel insurance, which I use every time I go home, around once a month."

The account comes with a debit card but no overdraft facility.

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