Everyone wants your money

Sunday before last I got two notifications telling me that at 5.20am (and again at 6.30) someone tried to use one of my credit cards somewhere in the US and failed because he or she got the expiry date on my card wrong. It seemed a bit odd to me because I never recall anyone asking me for expiry dates on my cards. But I have seen stranger things happen with plastic. So I let it go. If they had got the expiry date right and taken away the money, I wouldn’t have known till much later since it was a weekend and I wake up late. So I set aside conspiracy theories and informed the bank. They blocked the card.

Four days before that my wife Rina got an email from a big retail chain invoicing her for Rs 75,590 for some codenamed Samsung product delivered at a Fortune City address in Old Jessore Road, Kolkata. The bill was issued from their retail outlet at Manish Square in Maniktola Main Road, also in Kolkata. As we have no home in Kolkata for years now, and never had one in old Jessore Road, nor do we know where Maniktola Main Road is, we ignored it. Five days later two more bills came in. One for Rs 1; another for Rs 4190. From the same retailer. No, we haven’t paid.

Four months before that, my daughter woke up one morning to realize someone had hacked her ATM debit card at night and done 20 cash withdrawals of Rs 10,000 each. Her ATM card was safely ensconced in her wallet. The last ping on her phone woke her. It was charging next to her bed, contrary to all parental advice, and that saved her day. She called the bank, got the card cancelled. We filed an FIR and the bank reversed the transactions. Till today, no one knows who took the money though I am told they have finally identified the ATM.

All this, in four months. But that’s not all. We get almost every day emails informing us about inheritances we have received in London, Nairobi, Amsterdam, Budapest, Lagos and Istanbul, asking us to urgently send all details of our bank accounts so that the money can be sent. The total inheritance we could have received, had we responded to those emails, would be over a billion dollars. I wonder who are these magnanimous people are. Luckily, none of the offers came from Syria or Pakistan. Or else I would have had some serious explaining to do to those who intercept our mails.

We get emails from Swiss banks too, more formal in tone, informing us that some rich relative has passed away (no details given as to who, when and where) leaving us a few more million dollars in their wills. Would I kindly send them my account details so they can start the process of transferring the money?

But it’s not only about inheritances and wills lying in Swiss banks. I win lotteries by Pepsi, Coca Cola and Mercedes Benz where I am asked to collect my winnings by forwarding them (yes, you got it right) my bank account details. Their anxiety to pay me is only matched by my anxiety to ignore them. The emails go to trash. But I keep a few as souvenirs. There’s one from a Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal. I presume it’s the same famous Saudi prince who had sued Forbes for underestimating his fortune by 9.6 billion dollars. Or perhaps it’s his doppelganger. He promised me 400 million dollars if I gave him my bank account number.

It’s not just emails. We get calls from bank people (even banks where we have no accounts) desirous of filling in gaps in our KYC. When I tell them I do not have an account in their bank, they are happy to open one for me if only I would tell them where I currently bank and gave them my account details. The ones who call from banks where I have accounts are equally strange. They rarely have surnames they are ready to share and they can never be traced back. It’s the back office, I am told by my relationship manager.

Once or twice I almost made the mistake of reacting to calls about overdue credit cards. Luckily I just stopped in time. This menace has become worse since banks have unilaterally decided to help protect the environment by stopping my monthly statements that came by courier mail. They inform me that they have assumed my concurrence in this noble task of saving trees. I hope they won’t assume my concurrence in equally noble tasks like taking donations from my accounts to support charities of their choice. I am now stuck opening countless emails only to find the most ridiculous promotional offers. So I trash them all.

That starts a fresh cycle of phone calls. I am so tired of trying to figure out which of these calls are genuine and which are not, that I have stopped taking all bank calls. Now I get calls from unknown numbers where unknown people claiming to represent the banks I bank with and banks I don’t, keep asking me for information they should have no access to.

This brings me to my final point. By not sending me my statements by courier mail, as in the past, the banks have also ensured that I don’t check my statements to discover that all of a sudden they have sneaked in fees I know nothing about.

Yes, online banking is a fine idea. But it has its serious problems and I am in no hurry. If I miss out on inheritances, so be it. If I don’t get my lottery winnings, it’s fine. There will always be another time. And if Prince Alwaleed does not send me the promised 400 million dollars, I can live with that. But I am not going to open email attachments to read my bank statements. Or credit card dues. And no, I am not going to pay for those sneaky additional charges some banks are smuggling into my statements just because they think I won’t read them.