Is it OK to give out BSB and account numbers for a deposit? I asked myself this very question not so long ago. You would think my answer would have been a resounding “yes!” After all, I’ve given my bank details to just about everyone and anyone who wanted money from me or owed me money and I’ve had no problems whatsoever. But when I was asked for my bank account details on Gumtree by a potential buyer, I hesitated. There’s a reason Gumtree prefers all transactions to take place locally and in person – there are shady characters online.
Within half an hour of posting my son’s bed I got a message from “Anita” asking if it was still available and, if so, could I contact her via email. Warning bells rang immediately. Not only was this buyer quick to respond but she didn’t even discuss the price, even though I said it was negotiable. It was as if an alert had gone out that a new victim was online. Out of curiosity I emailed her. The rest played out like a typical scam. She worked on an oil rig (New Zealand Oil & Gas) and was presently offshore so was unable to answer any phone calls. A courier was to pick up the bed and she would deposit the cash into my bank account. A quick search on her “employer’s” website revealed this scam warning: “New Zealand Oil & Gas does not directly employ staff on offshore platforms. Do not trust online traders who ask you to transfer money because they are offshore.”
Clearly, Anita wasn’t interested in my son’s bed. After a few more web searches, it appeared Anita’s story was doing the rounds. Eventually she would have said that she was having trouble with the courier, and could I spot her the pick-up fees? She would pay for the bed and the fees once the courier confirmed the pick-up. Whatever the ending that waited for me, the thought of giving her my bank account details concerned me. Which leads me back to the question, is it safe to give out your bank account numbers?
ING Direct says “yes” but it recommends you monitor your account for unauthorised transactions. Commonwealth Bank says providing account details to a third party to receive or debit funds occurs daily and, while this is OK, it does advise that “any personal information, including banking details, should only be given if there is genuine need for a third party to know the details, i.e., to receive funds or to set up a regular direct debit”.
Kirsty Timsans, from financial comparison site Mozo, says: “It’s perfectly safe to give out your BSB and account number, as fraudsters won’t be able to access funds in your account without other details such as a PIN or a form of identification.” Furthermore, banks have fraud protection systems to catch suspicious transactions and recover funds.
“In the unlikely event that an unauthorised transaction takes place on an ING Direct account, the customer will not be liable for the unauthorised transaction, provided they have complied with the terms and conditions of the account,” says David Breen of ING Direct.
So what, if any, are the risks? Some time ago, then Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson revealed his bank details in a newspaper column to prove that nobody could use them to withdraw money from his accounts. He was wrong. Someone set up a monthly direct debit from his bank account to a charity. Apparently this charity didn’t require a signature to set up a direct debit, so it would be a little harder to do it in Australia as signatures are generally required. Putting this aside, though, unauthorised direct debits from accounts can and do occur.
If you’re still concerned about giving out details, Timsans suggests opening an extra account (with no monthly fees) and keeping it separate from your main account.
By the way, I sold the bed to a lovely gentleman in Victoria. We did it the old-fashioned way – he sent me a cheque. Ironically, it was he who suggested I could be a scammer. True. I could have banked his cheque and not delivered the bed but by this stage he knew who I was and figured I was good for my money.
Check the alternatives
PayPal.Me: Another option for you to receive money. You create a personal PayPal.Me page and it is added to your PayPal account for you to share with friends. Your friends simply click the link on any device, enter the amount, log in to their PayPal account and they’re done. The money will be in your PayPal account in moments. No need for bank details. If your friend is paying from their PayPal balance or linked bank account, it is free. If they’re using their credit card it costs 2.4% plus 30¢.
CommBank app: No bank details required –just your mobile number, email address or a Facebook contact. You don’t have to be a CBA customer but the payer does. Once payment is made, you’ll get a code on your phone. You have 14 days to collect your money by going the Commbank website and putting in your details. CBA’s was the first and Westpac and ANZ have since launched their own.
Ones to watch: They’re big overseas and about to become mainstream here: Venmo, Square Cash, Facebook Messenger and Snapchat’s Snapcash.