Arte del Banco

A few days ago I was alone in the house when the phone rang. I answered it, and the voice on the other end claimed to be from Barclay's bank - asking to speak to my father.

Now, the previous week someone had called, claiming to be Barclays, asking him to "confirm" his bank details. Yes, it was a scam, trying to get his sort code and account number, and dad did his routine of keeping them hanging on the line for half an hour, making friendly chat at great length about nothing, before saying he wasn't a Barclay's customer and putting the phone down. Nice one dad.

This time I decided to play along, pretending to be my father. If it was a scam, that would become apparent pretty quickly, and I could do my routine of giving lots of vague, contradictory and evasive answers...before telling them to fuck off. Or if it really was the bank, I could just be conveniently called away and hang up.

They had some security questions, to check that I really was my dad. First question: What are the last two letters of your mother's maiden name?

After a few seconds wracking my brain, I spat out two letters - immediately realising I'd got them wrong. The bank didn't seem to mind, telling me that was fine and moving on to the next security question.

When was my year of birth? I couldn't remember what year my father was born, and he's always cagey about his age, so I took a wild guess. Which was accepted as correct.

So we moved on to review "my" financial arrangements. The lady caller told me all about my father's standing orders, and I said it all sounded "about right". And no I didn't want to make any changes.

She then moved on to the real point of the call - to offer to change my account to the new high interest version. This is where you get slightly more interest, and get charged GBP50 a day if you go overdrawn.

I said no thanks, as we'd already examined and rejected all the new accounts - which was even true. She immediately lost interest and said goodbye.

So, I now know several things:

(1) It probably was Barclay's Bank.
(2) Cold callers can't tell the difference between a man in his 30s and an asthmatic ex-smoker in his 70s.
(3) My father's financial arrangements - he probably isn't supporting a second family on the other side of town.
(4) Security questions are a meaningless ritual - they don't bother to check your answer.
(5) Had I wanted to, I could have got a lot more info. And changed it.

I hope this has helped you feel just a little happier about banking security.


  1. I've never been called by my credit unions (I don't use a bank). I think one of them actually has a policy where telephone conversations have to be initiated by the account holder and then go through the security hooplah.

    I still am not comfortable though with anyone handling my financial information. Not too long after my accident, I got a letter from my credit unions saying that suspicious activities were taking place on a credit card that I hadn't used since fall and only rarely before then. When I called them they said that they would just close the account and issue me a new card. I'd like to know how these fuckers got my card details, and where these charges were being transacted at.

    Even though I am protected from having to pay for items that were obtain from my stolen credit, I still worry about how easy people can rip them off and the fact that credit unions are comfortable letting them do it.

  2. My friend threw a credit card receipt in the garbage. Garbage pickers found it and rang up big charges on his account.

    He went right out and purchased a paper shredder the next day.

    I shred every scrap too.