I don’t get my cash from a “hole in the wall”. Instead I go to the “money box”: a squat little stand-alone unit that stands inside the hideous shopping mall that I use. But when I went to the money box last week my card was returned with the ominous message that my card was declined and to contact my bank. There must be something wrong with the money box, I surmised, and trotted off to the supermarket , intending to EFTPOS my cash when I got to the register. But – oh dear- the card was declined again and once again I was told to contact my bank, which I promptly did after scraping together enough cash to buy my groceries.
My card had been compromised, the voice in the call centre said. There had been a suspicious attempted withdrawal of 56 cents from “Melbourne Mobile Services” or something, and so they had closed my card down. If desperate, I could go back to the money box, call them on my mobile and they would lift the ban for five minutes while I stood there withdrawing my cash, then reinstate it instantly. No thank you, I thought, envisaging my pre-paid phone balance leaking away with each recitation of “Our customer service officers are busy at the moment….” I could wait until Monday to withdraw cash in person from the bank, and I would patiently wait for my new debit card within 5-6 working days.
You might note that it is a debit card, not a credit card. I am a rather old-school bank customer. In the wake of the breakdown of my first marriage, panicked by the tightness of my budget in paying a mortgage on just one wage, I started withdrawing a set amount of money every fortnight and using only that money for food and pocket money while paying bills and mortgage from the account and through BPay. Once my allowance of “spending money” cash is gone, it’s gone and I do without. I haven’t had to change the amount in ten years, probably because my children have either left home or pay for their own food now, so it’s just me. And I admit that I now have to use the card for petrol instead of paying it from “housekeeping”, and I sometimes have to withdraw extra cash for large one off purchases, clothes and haircuts. But in general, I pay myself a cash allowance and use that. I have never had a credit card, only debit. I B-pay everything, and have only one direct debit which was unavoidable. I’ve never understood automatic debits- I wouldn’t dream of opening my purse to Telstra, the council, electricity etc. and saying “Here, help yourself once a month”, relying on them to take notice of me when I might say someway down the track “That’s enough- stop taking it now, please”. I am uneasy when I send off my credit card details to pay through the mail- how do I know that it’s not going to fall into someone elses hands? How do I know that they’re only going to make that one withdrawal? I’ve never had any trouble with this, but it still seems a remarkably lax system. Likewise when I use my debit card- why don’t I have to sign AND pin? Often I sign when my card has been given back to me and my signature is never checked. Why are the banks encouraging this?
So, given my old school proclivities, I was horrified to find that my new debit card arrived with Paypass technology. No need to sign or pin- just wave it in front of the console beside the register and away I go with up to $100.00 of purchases. Or maybe it’s someone else waving it in front of the console and going away with $100.00 purchases on my card without my knowledge. I didn’t ask for this. How ironic that the alert on my card was triggered by a small purchase, and yet this technology encourages a string of small purchases, all of which would be so small that I doubt that I would notice them. No worries- says the bank- you’re covered against fraud as long as you comply with the terms and conditions on the website. But I can imagine a whole number of scenarios where this could be abused- the sulky teenage child who slips the odd purchase here or there (not that MY children would do that!), the elderly neighbour who asks someone to pop down to the shop, or an opportunistic use of a card in a wallet left carelessly. I can’t understand why this is the default provision- given to everyone whether they want it or not.
I have complained to the bank and asked for this feature to be blocked on my card. That’s another irony: being left on hold in order to complain. After 5 minutes waiting, I sent an email. I’ll be interested to see what the response is.