A Modern Day Horror Story

The banking industry should be heartily applauded for their security systems to stop cyber crime which now makes it nearly impossible for genuine account owners to access their money.


In the name of cyber security, my capacity to access and obtain my money in a checking account from a bank in the United States (The Bank) over nine months was so difficult that it can only be described as a modern day horror story.

Think of this tale as the financial version of Mr. Sardonicus, a horror story where a man’s face becomes frozen in a horrifying grin while robbing his father’s grave to obtain a winning lottery ticket. His horrifying smile is the symbol of his greed and the perversion of all natural feeling.

In my version of this horror story, The Bank is the Mr. Sardonicus character with a grotesque disfigured smile. The Bank’s terrifying grimace remained in place while I struggled in vain to undertake a simple transaction to transfer money from the United States to my bank overseas. It has been a complete nightmare.

Ironically, this exercise in futility was made worst by the ‘convenience’ of online technology and a legion of faceless bank personnel, who spoke to me by phone and identified themselves with only one name. During each phone call, I was expected to jump through hoop after hoop to answer security questions that are arbitrarily generated from some AI nether region.

And by the way, staff will hang up on you if they don’t like your complaint or tone. If I were them, I would do the same because they are almost powerless within this automated system to help when a customer is upset or trying to solve an issue. In this chain of ‘no’ command, I had to repeat the history over to each new person, detail again and again the circumstances that had led me to this point, and explain the problem that needed to be solved, which was never going to be solved.

Of the over two hundred and fifty-thousand employees in The Bank, I am sure that I have spoken to at least fifty-thousand of them. In reality, I have made at least 100 phone calls to solve this problem over the past months. In the final hour, the only alternative that I was being given by a third-tier security person was to travel to the United States and go into The Bank branch. (Before this conversation, I had already successfully answered two bouts of security questions with two other people and was assured the transfer would go forward. It was rejected again.)

Apparently, there was not a single person in any position of authority anywhere in The Bank that would or could help me gain access to my checking account. (About eight months in, I was finally contacted by someone with a last name who understood my circumstances and tried to help. But this was only after I wrote three emails to the CEO of The Bank at an address that did not bounce back. I never received any acknowledgement and the only reason that I suspect they were received is that the employee with a last name telephoned me not long after I wrote the second one.)

But back to the continuing horror story. In my last unsuccessful attempt to use the online system to transfer money, it was revealed by a security person that I was classified in the system as an account holder in “Denial.” This apparently meant that I was a person of such notoriety and criminal intent that nothing less than a 14,000 mile return journey to and from the United States would solve the issue.

So with all of these online systems intended to aid an individual’s banking, this still meant that I must travel to the United States, enter The Bank branch and present two credentials to undertake any banking activity. So what is the point of the online systems, if the only option is to go to a bank physically to undertake a simple banking task? It is a literally a false economy. So what caused this problem?

Well, the missteps I took and the assumptions that I made were part of the initial problem. This included not wanting to use their arbitrary question and answer security system that no one told me existed when I set-up my accounts. If I had known what I know now. I would have taken my money and run. And also be aware that paper checks no longer work in much of the world outside of the United States so money transfers must be electronic.

If I felt that The Bank’s real intent was to protect me and my money, I might feel less furious about this debacle. But I believe the real reason for the elaborate security systems is The Bank’s fear of any liability to refund the customer’s money if a cyber criminal steals it. This could get expensive! These security systems are for their protection—not ours. Otherwise, human reason and compassion would have prevailed at some point and I would have been able to access my money. But after this experience, I don’t expect compassion or reason—these are values of the past.

The cyber criminal has actually won the fight. Everyone is now considered a cyber criminal and we are guilty until proven innocent. And like being in a nightmare that never ends, we can’t prove our innocence. This is a real life horror story and like the face of the Mr. Sardonicus, The Bank’s leadership and policy makers continue to sport sardonic smiles as another customer suffers through this modern day insanity.

Picture of Joyce Agee

Joyce Agee

Writing can magically transport us anywhere. My blog looks at the experiences of being an expat newcomer; life in a small town in regional Australia, and what the world looks like living ‘down under’.


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