An increasing number of friends are reporting troubling cases of
theft from their China bank accounts. One friend, after years of working
in China and saving every penny, was preparing to return to the US, but
suddenly every penny in her ICBC bank account was stolen. ICBC may be the world’s largest bank. I think it is the most popular one here in China, where most of the world’s money seems to be coming these days. In spite of all the great technology that ICBC must have, someone was able to take out every penny with no warning.
The ICBC bank
officials told her that someone had a copy of her card and had taken
the money out. She asked how this was possible without knowing her
password. No explanation was given, except that it was somehow her
fault. She spent five days arguing with them and got nowhere. They said
that the thief could have been working with her to perpetuate fraud on
the bank, so why should they refund her money? Her only option now is to
sue, but she has to go back to the US soon and fears she won’t have the
ability to pursue the case. But we’ve encouraged her to work with a
lawyer to fight this and are trying to help. She will fight and has a lawyer taking action. I hope to have good news to report
Her story has almost exactly the same set of facts that we find in a chilling account, “How I sued the world’s largest bank and won”
at Shanghaist.com. In that case, it was a smaller amount, 15,000 RMB
that was taken from the author’s ICBC account. He encountered the same consumer service policies and attitudes, and was forced also to
sue for something that was clearly not his fault. He won, and it only
took 7 months and some modest attorney fees to get his money back.
you have a bank account with an ATM card, there is a real risk that one
day money will begin disappearing from your account. This happened to us with our US bank. Someone in Germany was taking out $300 a day for 3 days in a row before I logged in and notice this. Because the German bank providing the ATM was not able to document that our password had been used to make the withdrawals, it was their fault and they had to refund the money into our account. But I am amazed that the money could be taken out at all without our password. It happened! Check your account frequently.
There are some
very high risk factors in China for those of you here or coming here in the future:
The daily limit for ATM withdrawals is much higher than it is in the
U.S. and Europe. A thief typically can take out 20,000 RMB a day (over
$3,000), which is 5 to 10 times higher than typical US limits.
The daily limit may not be over a 24-hour period, but may be based on
the calendar date, so if that applies to your bank, then a thief can
take 20,000 RMB out at 11:55 pm, and another 20,000 RMB out at 12:05 PM.
3) Banks in China often don’t have effective anti-fraud protection.
There are many thieves with card copying or card scanning devices who
can make a duplicate of your card. If they or a small video camera can
watch you enter your password, having your account number and your
password leaves you defenseless.
5) Thieves can sometimes pull
money out of your account without using your password. I don’t know how
this happens, but it has happened to multiple people in China, and it
happened to us with our US bank.
6) When someone pulls money out
of your account without knowing your password, it should be the bank’s
fault and they should reimburse you. But consumer service attitudes and
policies may not be identical to those in your home country. China banks
may tend to blame the customer and argue that maybe the thief was
collaborating with you, so they might not cooperate unless you take them
to court. You can sue and win in China, but it will take a lot of work
and the help of an attorney.
Because money in the bank is so vulnerable, I suggest several best practices, some of which apply anywhere:
Do not keep large amounts in any single Chinese bank. Move a lot of it
into US accounts without ATM cards or with two-part authentication, and
keep plenty of cash.
2) Use your bank cards as little as possible. Instead, use cash to make payments when possible.
Do not let employees walk away with your bank card (they might run it
through a card copier device of some kind). Keep your eyes on it.
4) Do not let your card be scanned in any place that seems questionable or seedy.
5) When using ATM machines, look for unusual devices, small video cameras, etc., that might have been added.
Keep good records of where you have been so that if the bank says it
must have been you that pulled all your money out of your account in,
say, Harbin, you can prove you weren’t in Harbin that day.
7) Monitor your bank account frequently, and make sure you receive automatic text messages when money is taken out of your ATM.
When you do find a problem, document in detail who you spoke with, what
you said, what they said, etc. You may needs lots of documented
details if you have to sue the bank to get back missing money.
Avoid trusting your money to any bank that has a bad track record of
protecting the money of its customers. If you know of banks that have
performed well in this regard, please let me know.
are not unique to China, but they seem to be a lot more frequent here
and more severe, especially with the high daily minimum that thieves can
If you do online banking, your risks are also high due
to hackers. I suggest you use complex passwords that you change often,
and only use secure computers to access your bank accounts. It’s good to
have a cheap computer that is never used for browsing but only for bank
access, and even then keep good firewall and anti-spyware software on
it, keep it updated, use more secure browsers like Chrome or Firefox,
and don’t use untrusted wifi networks to access your accounts. For added
security, use VPN when you access your bank account. This encrypts all the information, although using the typical https connection should do that also.
all your money in any one account, and keep a wad of cash somewhere,
too. Thieves can get everything, but we shouldn’t make it easy for them. That would seem to be part of a sound approach to “provident living.”