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You can take that to the bank

So how is this for a crazy story I heard about via the online grapevine: some crooks in America built a fake ATM machine and stuck it on a wall on a busy street. People went up to this machine, stuck in their electronic banking card, punched in their pin, and then got a message on the screen that read: “System error – please call your bank branch.”

And of course, the machine swallowed their card. Just think about the genius of this wicked con story. You go up to a machine, unsuspecting. You insert your card and type in your pin. Then you think something has gone wrong and you have to call your bank. You have no reason to believe there is any wrongdoing so, yes, while you are annoyed that the machine gulped down your card, you don’t realise you have just been robbed. Or are about to be robbed.

What happens now is that the con artists have your card and your pin number. They simply walk on over to the real ATM machine down the road and withdraw your cash. By the time you actually call your bank they have withdrawn your full daily allowance. At a few hundreds cards a day and we are talking substantial loot.

The banking system is full of potential holes just waiting for con-men to exploit. I remember a story someone told to me many years ago about a guy who worked at Nedbank and got a cheque who was made out to Nedfin for R750 000.

The guy them added the word “Mr” in front of the “Nedfin”, went and organised a fake ID and opened an account in the name of “Mr Nedfin”. He then deposited the money and withdrew it. Some time passed before anyone realised what had happened.

In another story – this one a bit of a crazy one – I heard about a scam with escorts where people would hire hostesses. The escort agency would ask the customer to deposit the money into their account and then fax them a copy of the deposit slip as proof of payment.

Now think about this. Let’s say you owe someone R5 000 for a service. So, you go to the bank and deposit R50 into their account.

Then, on the deposit slip you add two zeroes and it goes from R50 to R5 000. When you fax the deposit slip through it looks like you have indeed deposited the full amount. Yes, you will get found out eventually, but this is the world we live in. All technology is open to abuse.

Then of course there are those who will argue that our bank charges are a rip-off to begin with, so perhaps there is some strange irony to all of this. And perhaps not.

Perhaps what we need is a banking anecdote to end of today’s discussion. Why is it that when you borrow R1 million from the bank and you can’t pay it back on deadline day, you land up pacing up and down, but when you borrow R1 billion from the bank and you can’t make the payment deadline, then they pace up and down?

Yup, somewhere in the middle of those two figures lies the magic number. When we figure out what that number is I think we will probably figure out all the other stuff we have explored today.

  • Ronnie Apteker is one of the founders of Internet Solutions, the country’s largest corporate Internet service provider. He is also a movie producer, an author of two books and sometimes a stand up comedian.

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The Big Change is a business strategy blog and newsletter published by Arthur Goldstuck, managing director of World Wide Worx, a leading technology research organisation based in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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