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Is it safe to give out bank account details?

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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.

Written by Effie Zahos

Effie Zahos

Editor Effie Zahos started out as a graduate trainee for one of Australia’s major banks. She moved to TV in 1997, kick-starting her career in finance journalism as head researcher for Channel Nine’s Money Show. A regular finance commentator on TV and radio, she is the author of The Great $20 Adventure.

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  1. The answer is a big fat NO. Here’s why. Someone you are dealing with knows your name and your bank account. They in turn open up a paypal account – in your name, which is possible because Paypal do not do a 100 point check. They then link your bank account to the Paypal account they set up using nothing more than an email address (i.e. yahoo.com, gmail etc) and presto, they start transferring money into “your” (i.e. their) Paypal account.

    How do I know this? It happened to my business partner today. He spent the whole day ringing Paypal (and go se how long it takes to even FIND their number let alone speak to a human) and his bank before now having to change bank account numbers. Every automated payment into or out of his account is now screwed up. Total nightmare.

    Never EVER give out your bank account/BSB number is my advice.

    • Lucas – you and your friend are quite right to be alarmed over PayPal’s self-serving and frankly, downright illegal interests.

      I had an account hacked earlier this year and the cause was solely because my bank account had been linked to the PayPal account.

      Only after threatening to report a flippant and dismissive PayPal to certain financial authorities, did they do an instant 360 degree turnaround and couldn’t help me fast enough, even going to far as to refund every dollar that had been stolen almost instantly.

      However, I was lucky in that respect because most people just lay down and swallow whatever bullshit PayPal dishes out without realizing they DO have the legal right to fight back.

      But here’s the kicker – even my bank strongly urged me NEVER to attach a bank account to PayPal under any circumstances for exactly this reason.

  2. Hi Lucas,

    PayPal only authorises the process when you log into your account and match the reference number from a deposit they have made into your account to prove that you are the owner. Therefore if you are not the owner you can not access that deposit and reference number 🙂

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  4. The article is accurate – BSB and account numbers aren’t a risk for withdrawals against you.
    These could be used in certain frauds, but the scenarios aren’t useful for non-attributable scams. ie Direct debit agreement where payment goes to a merchant, as per the Clarkson example provided.

    They are however a risk for deposits – never use any online direct deposit payment option. Your options for recovery if goods aren’t received is close to nil.
    Credit cards will provide you with recovery options/protection if you monitor it.
    Paypal will protect you to an additional layer by not leaving your credit card details in systems for years that are subject to security breaches.

  5. Hi Guys

    10 min ago I received an sms and email with the exact same story but with a different name, from someone working in the mining in NT asking for my PP or BSB as I want to sell a suitcase in gumtree. Then I doubt if someone can scam you with these numbers so I browsed and I found this page

    I know now this is B***s**T

    thanks!!!

  6. Thanks for your write up on the possible scenarios of online scammers. I just received a text message from someone named ‘Jane Brock’ saying she was interested to buy my gym equipment and advised she will transfer the money on paypal and asked me to share my bank account details. I strictly rejected the offer.

    Be careful everyone!!

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