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Is it safe to give out your 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 🙂

  3. 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.

  4. 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!!!

  5. 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!!

    • Jane Broock is still at it as just today I received an SMS followed by emails in regards to gym equipment I was selling.

  6. If I give someone my account number on my card can they hack my paypal account or do they need more info?

    • Hi Suzanne,

      For most Australian banks the number on your card is different to your bank account number. Your bank account requires a BSB and account number.

      Disclosing either of those numbers does not allow someone to access your Paypal account, but we do recommend you take the safety precautions mentioned in the story.

      – Money team

  7. Same story happened to me. I was selling a couch and I got an offer really quickly after putting the ad, the person called Elisabeth (email: elisabethkeartland.gmail.com) offered me $100 on top of the price to take down the ad as she wanted to buy it straight away and she said that had already spoken to the curier even though she said that she couldn’t talk to me over the phone because of the nature of her job, very strange… I felt it was dodgy so I found this page where you confirmed my suspicions…

    Thanks for the article,
    Susana

  8. I just had the same thing on Gumtree, I’m selling a motorcycle, first email asked what the minimum amount was that I’d take, second email said where he was working didn’t have phone reception and he had already organised a courier. Wanted to pay via PayPal linked to his ANZ account. In that second email he said he was happy to pay what I was asking. That’s when alarm bells started ringing and I googled how safe it was to give my details and this was the first page it lead me to. Just sounded dodgy in the email. Company name he used was falcon oil and gas in beetaloo basin Northern Territory.

  9. Oh dear I am afraid I have been scammed well I definitely have. I am selling a ute on gumtree I was contacted via email and offered asking price and an extra $300 to take the add down, Daniel Jonothab asked for my bsb and account details which I stupidly gave. I was then told funds would be transferred but I needed to pay a courier $950 first I started to cotton on at this point and told him this is too werid and too much fuss for an old ute. What do I need to do as i jave given out my bank details….help

    • Hi Nicole,

      The buyer should not be able to access your funds with just a BSB and account number. It’s unlikely he will deposit money in your account, as you’ve probably realised.

      We recommend reporting the scam to Gumtree and ceasing all contact with the buyer. You should also make sure your internet banking is secure with a strong password, and monitor your accounts for suspicious activity.

      – Money team

      • Hi Money team,

        What if BSB, account number AND the name of your account was given? Can they access your account? If possibly so, what can you do to prevent or stop this?

        • Hi Lucas,

          As the story says, scammers won’t be able to access funds in your account without a PIN, ID or online banking information.

          If you are still concerned, we recommend you contact your bank.

          – Money team

    • HI Nicole,
      I too just received an e-mail from our friend Daniel Jonothan with pretty much the exact story ($300 to take the add down etc), claimed he was a medical doctor. What happened in your case in the end? Were your accounts ever compromised?

  10. Hey guys,

    Here is an example I have also received today with having an ad on Gumtree for my wedding dress of which I posted for $999, he is offering more for no reason.

    He is using the following Hotmail account –wongonste@hotmail.com

    Thanks for the response, i will take it for $1100 including PayPal Sub charges since i am interested in the immediate purchase and also satisfied with pictures of it i’ve seen. How i wish i could come to inspect your ads listing myself, but currently I’m working away from the country… But the issue is i am an oceanographer and i have a contract now so am presently on sea. The contract is strictly no call due to the lack of reception on the sea area. But I’m able to access email anytime as we will make use of laptop so my only quickest payment option is PayPal as i can send money via PayPal anytime. Since I’m requesting this transaction to be done via PayPal, i will be responsible for all the paypal charges on this transaction and if you do not have an account with paypal, its pretty easy, safe and secured to open one. Just log on to http://www.paypal.com. I hope we can make the purchase as fast as possible? I have a mover that will come for it once payment clears and they will take care of every necessary paper for me. I need your PayPal Full name and email address so i can send the money now.

  11. Here’s what got for my response

    Thanks for getting back mate, I’m ok with the condition as described on the advert and what price are you willing to sell without the reg and rwc. I work on North West Shelf in the Rowley Sub-basin in Perth and the reception here is terrible. We do not have access to phone at the moment,which is why I contacted you with internet messaging facility. This lovely car will be as a surprise!

    Regarding the payment, I will be paying you through PayPal linked with my bank account, if you have a paypal account, all I will need will be your paypal email address, you can alternatively send your bsb acct name and number if you have no PayPal acct. I have also contacted my courier who will come for pick up and deliver it to Darwin after the whole funds has been cleared into your acct.

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