When you give away my money, don’t put that back on me. #HSBC #fraud #banking #howisthisonme

I woke up this morning (12/18/2010) and checked my bank balance, and found something curious and worrying – two checks had been cashed the night before, both for significant sums of money…but only one was signed by me. The other featured unfamiliar handwriting – and my roommate’s signature (of her own name)!

I woke up my roommate and showed her the check images, and she checked her own bank balance – which was unchanged – and we realized that she must have grabbed one of my checks by mistake. Both had been drawn on my account – though filled out in totally separate handwriting and with completely different signatures for different names – AND HSBC CASHED BOTH THE CHECKS!

Now, my roommate and I have already sorted out the financial side of this – but my attempts to get some kind of explanation from HSBC about how this could have happened have so far been met with total refusal to accept responsibility for what happened.

After spending 45 minutes on the phone with HSBC Customer Suckfest this morning (perhaps three minutes of which was actually spent on the line with an agent), I was flat-out told there was nothing the people on the phone could do to help me. (Although it took threatening to march into a local branch waving printouts of the two checks and complaining very loudly to get them to admit that much.) They implied that in order to get any kind of explanation, I’m going to have to file fraud charges against my roommate. Which I’m not going to do – obviously – although I think they’ve missed out on a serious point here regardless. She signed her own name – that’s not fraud, fraud is her signing my name. She’s not an authorized signatory on my account – so surely, HSBC, it shouldn’t matter whether she’s signed it, or Barack Obama, or Angelina Jolie signs their name on my check – NONE OF THEM ARE AUTHORIZED TO BE TAKING MONEY OUT OF MY ACCOUNT.

Am I wrong?

And here’s the thing, HSBC. You and I have a business relationship. We’ve entered into a contract that provides that you will protect certain aspects of my life. There is absolutely no excuse for providing funds and deducting them from my account based on the signature of someone who we both agree I did not authorize to withdraw funds from my account. Your Customer Service rep tried to say that this was something to do with the funds being deposited into a Citibank account – are you kidding me? Do you really think it matters if the request is coming from outside an HSBC branch? In fact, shouldn’t that make you even more cautious, in your own interest? Because guess what – now that money is outside of HSBC’s accounts, and I have a hard copy record of a check signed by someone in their own name on an account that we agreed should only be withdrawn from by me. You broke our contract.

Am I wrong?

So don’t tell me I have to file fraud paperwork, and don’t try to make this my responsibility or my roommate’s. Somebody on your payroll looked at that check, saw that the name printed on it, the name on the account, did not match the name – let alone the handwriting – that had been signed on the bottom corner, and said, “Yes, pay this out.”

I think I’m entitled to know who that was and how it happened, and I think you owe me some kind of explanation of how you’ll make sure this never happens – to anyone – again.

Am I wrong?

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6 Responses to When you give away my money, don’t put that back on me. #HSBC #fraud #banking #howisthisonme

  1. Peter Waite says:

    “Am I wrong?”

    Yes, but before you get upset, let me explain what you’re wrong about….

    You said “Somebody on your payroll looked at that check, saw that the name printed on it, the name on the account, did not match the name – let alone the handwriting – that had been signed on the bottom corner, and said, “Yes, pay this out.”

    That is right there the ESSENCE of why you’re wrong. The thought that there was any actual thought put behind this screwup is where you’re mistaken. These things are all done by automated computerized scanners and filed electronically. The only person that probably EVER looked at the check was your roommate and the person that the check was handed too. But since you don’t say how the check was used we can’t even assume the latter. If you go to walmart for example you sign your name on the check and the person runs it through a scanner…. THEY never even look at the check.

    So you’re wrong in the sense that there’s no grand conspiracy, there’s no one approving this missuse. All it was was electrons and numbers. The fault lies with your roomate, and as you said, you corrected it.

    The next step of blame (or potentially the first step) would technically lie with you yourself. You need to protect your assets. Would you get upset at a bank if your roomate took $20 cash off the nightstand in your bedroom?

    Finally the bank said that they DO have a system in place for dealing with such mixups. It’s called fraud investigation. Technically what she did IS fraud, but only if you report it. I could sign your name to your check and it’s not fraud if i have your permission to do so. You don’t want too (because there’s zero reason) use that banks path for rectifying the problem, that’s your problem, not the banks.

    I understand in theory why you might be upset, but I think you’re looking at this from the completely wrong angle. You, your roomate, and potentially the client who took the check are all in the wrong here… the bank really isn’t.

    But that’s just my opinion.

    =)

    -Pete

    • Hey Pete,

      OK, I accept that it may have been an automated system that did the checks – I don’t feel that that excuses HSBC of the responsibility for cashing a check that was signed by someone who isn’t a signatory on my account. Both when speaking to the customer service rep on the phone (the one mentioned above, who ultimately couldn’t help me) and when speaking to the rep at the branch I stopped by on my errands earlier today, I said, my understanding of the situation was that it was the bank’s responsibility to ensure that before they took money out of my account, that the person who had authorized that was actually authorized to withdraw funds. They said that yes, they agreed, that was the bank’s responsibility.

      I wasn’t actually implying there was a grand conspiracy – I was implying that one of their employees screwed up. Somewhere at HSBC, there must be an employee under whose job responsibilities fall “make sure that signatories on the check match signatories on the account.” Even if all that person does is sign off on an auto-generated report, I just can’t believe that there’s nobody accountable/responsible at HSBC for such an important step in the process – and if there’s not, then I think that means the corporation is being negligent in its protection of my assets. As for her committing fraud – fraud is “something intended to deceive; deliberate trickery intended to gain an advantage,” and although I can’t quickly find a concise definition, forgery as I understand it is when you try to copy/write someone ELSE’S name. Neither applies here, as far as I can see.

      I don’t think the analogy of $20 cash is applicable here, as we’re examining the burden of responsibility on the bank to verify that a check is signed by someone authorized to withdraw on an account before withdrawing money from that account. (Which is the real issue – as I said, the specific finances of the situation have been handled).

      As for your comment, ” I could sign your name to your check and it’s not fraud if i have your permission to do so.” <– could you please point me to some documentation on this? At work, we often have an issue where someone has a company card and is told that because their name isn't on the card, they can't sign for it. We're told that for transactions under $100. I realize that banks and credit card companies are two different things, but according to my conversations with the bank's employees this morning, they failed in their responsibility to check this.

      To paraphrase something a friend posted on his facebook recently: No one opens a bank account in this country thinking it's acceptable for a bank to cash checks written by someone who has no connection to the account or permission to access the account. At this point, having the bank reverse the charge is going to cause all kinds of problems in terms of our relationship with our landlord, because it will make us short half the rent for the month. But I still think I'm entitled to an explanation of how and why this happened, who's responsible, and how HSBC is going to make sure this never happens to anybody again.

      Which, particularly in light of the two HSBC employees who agreed the burden was on the bank to check the signature, I still don't think I'm wrong about.

  2. KathyB says:

    Based upon my extremely quick skim of Pete’s message, I think I’m probably going to repeat a lot of what he said. I’ve been mulling this over in the shower and these are my thoughts.

    In the interest of full disclosure, to begin, I was an HSBC customer for 6+ years, including the period of time when my PAYROLL checks were bouncing and causing my rent checks to bounce as well, and they always treated me well. The only reason I switched from them was because there’s no HSBC presence here on the Best Coast.

    Also – you have every right to be incensed and unreasonably mad. There was money missing from your account through no fault of your own. That’s way more than enough just cause for someone to blow their stack completely. So you’ll never hear me say you shouldn’t be upset.

    Lots of mistakes were made here, and I can only see one that’s remotely your fault, and that’s the extremely minor sin of having two checkbooks located in the same area where one could reasonably mistake one for the other.

    The huge mistake here is on your roommate’s part. Who mistakes someone else’s checks for their own? While I don’t doubt it was truly an accident (since it seems she tried to make things right as quickly as possible with no argument whatsoever) it’s still a completely freakin’ bonehead move. That was DUMB.

    I see another fairly significant mistake here on the part of the unknown party (given the fact that there were two checks from both of you with significant amounts, I’m taking a Wild Ass Guess and assuming it’s rent and a landlord) who accepted and deposited a check that was clearly Way Wrong. I’d personally place 51% of the blame on whoever signed the back of the check. The other 49% goes to the roommate.

    I have no reason to believe whatsoever that anyone on HSBC’s payroll ever saw these checks. It was deposited to Citibank, and Citibank processed it. So if anyone’s slacking off at their job it’s a Citibank teller, but FAR MORE LIKELY these checks were deposited through an ATM, which only wants to know the amount, and is Dumb Technology.

    Do I think there should be some kind of step where an Actual Human Being checking to make sure everything is squared away properly? Well, yes, of course. It would even create jobs for unskilled labor! But expecting that and being pissed off that it doesn’t exist is entirely unrealistic. C’mon now, this is the TWENTY FIRST CENTURY we live in, and this is a huge megabank. I have no reason to believe you’d be treated any differently from BofA, Citibank, Chase, Wells Fargo (who will soon be signing MY paychecks) or any other company.

    If you want completely personalized 100% human interaction, you’ll need to join a mom-n-pop credit union and say goodbye to ANY expectation of customer service outside of Posted Bankers Hours. And looking through your reply to Pete, you say “I was implying that one of their employees screwed up”, and yet you also say that you want to make sure this never happens to anyone else ever again. So you want to eliminate all human error from the workplace? Um…I don’t really see that happening.

    HSBC tried to make it right. If it had be ANYONE ELSE other than your roommate, you could reverse the check or file fraud charges or do any number of things. Recourse was offered and you’ve elected not to take advantage of (which I think, given the circumstances, is totally the right call).

    Asking for this: “But I still think I’m entitled to an explanation of how and why this happened, who’s responsible, and how HSBC is going to make sure this never happens to anybody again.” is completely unreasonable and I find it very, very interesting you use the word “entitled” because it’s extremely appropriate.

    tl;dr: Your roommate fucked up bigtime, your landlord was negligent, you might want to stow your checkbook out of the way, and yes big banking is a cold heartless robot intent on fucking you over and stealing your money. To expect anything less is naive in the extreme.

  3. Christopher Duncan says:

    Was that your blood curdling scream we heard this afternoon?

    In brief, I think HSBC should not have paid out of your account to Citibank when Citibank presented them with your check. By doing so, they broke the agreement that you have with them, as the signature on your check was not an authorized signature. However, in the real world I would be surprised if anyone ever in any bank looks at checks to confirm signatories.

    Can you harass HSBC about this and likely get some satisfaction? Perhaps you could get HSBC to explain this to your landlord – if that is who the check was written to – but I suspect it will take an awful lot of work.

  4. Peter Waite says:

    So I owe you an apology.

    My wife worked for a bank for a while when she was younger. Each banking location has a department, sometimes one person, sometimes several, called the “proof department.” Their sole job is to verify any check over $500 (or she says ones that are suspiciously close, like $499.99) and make sure there isn’t anything wrong with it.

    She told me they are supposed to check things like the signature on the check against a check card that has your previously signed name on it. She also said they MAY do it all on the computer now a days, but obviously the wrong name on a check should have been flagged and that money never should have been paid out.

    So…. sorry about that, I was wrong.

  5. Thanks Pete – appreciated, and by the way, I owe your wife a beer. 🙂

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