10.11.08

More Scuffles with the Bank, Part 4: My ‘Happy Ending’

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants at 5:41 am by Benjamin Ross

cont’d from More Scuffles with the Bank, Part 3:  Assets still Frozen, Hope on the Horizon

A recent e-mail from a reader (thanks Evelyn) alerted me to the fact that I never concluded the story of my latest ongoing feud with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).  Well, the reason why I forgot to wrap things up is that surprisingly, the situation resolved itself quite smoothly.  After the seven day waiting period, Da Sen was able to withdraw my money in Fuqing, and then transfer it to my new ICBC account in Beijing.  I was able to withdraw it, and use the funds to pay for most of my trip to Jinan, Qufu, and Qingdao.  (1500 RMB, roughly $200 USD goes a long way in the Middle Kingdom).

What I learned from the whole endeavor is that when a banking conflict arises in China, more often than not, you will get your money in the end.  However, the amount of aggravation and bureaucracy you have to deal with is often so much that it makes you question whether or not it was even worth wasting your time on in the first place.  At a standard laowai rental/tutor rate of 150 RMB/hr, I probably would have been better off allotting the time I spent on getting my money back to working an hourly job.  Of course, things would be quite different had it been a considerably larger sum of money in question.

Another thing I learned, or should probably say already knew but was reinforced, is that Chinese banks (and institutions as a whole) tend to err on the side of over-security.  Over-security to the point that it’s often the rightful owner who is locked out, rather than a potential thief.  I have made this same observation several times when logging on to Chinese websites as well, which often require a far greater deal of verification for password retrieval than their American counterparts.  More often than not, you end up having to set up a new account (I must have at least 3 Tianya accounts by now).

But most importantly, in these times of great financial crises, rest assured your money is safe and secure within the confines of the Chinese banking system.  You just may never be able to get it out in the event you make one small mistake.


 

08.01.08

More Scuffles with the Bank, Part 3: Assets still Frozen, Hope on the Horizon

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants at 3:21 pm by Benjamin Ross

For those of you who are regulars to this blog, you probably know I have an ongoing feud with the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC). Without rehashing the entire story (you can read part 1 and part 2 here), basically through a combination of faulty machinery, silly regulations, and a slice of human error, I essentially had my assets frozen. Because my ATM password had allegedly been entered incorrectly three times, and therefore my account was frozen, and I could not make withdrawals. Since my account was originally opened in Fujian, I was told there was nothing the ICBC in Beijing could do. I would have to return to Fujian to settle the matter. Fortunately, a return trip to Fujian was part of my China summer itinerary.

This past Sunday I left Wenzhou (where I had been for 5 days visiting friends), and headed for Fuqing, the small town an hour outside Fuzhou in which I lived my first year in China (and where I had opened my ICBC account). The ICBC in Beijing had told me that I only needed to return “a Fujian branch” of ICBC to reset my password. Just to be on the safe side, I decided it would be best to go to the actual city where my account was opened.

ICBC Industrial and Commercial Bank of China
My arch nemesis, the Industrial and Commerical Bank of China, always seems to have the upper hand when it comes to making my personal financial affairs in China a living nightmare.

On my first day in Fuqing, I was met by a typhoon. Typhoons are common in Fujian in the summer, and since Fuqing sits just a few miles from the ocean, it gets hit hard. Winds howl, the rain persists for days on end, and often billboards are blown off their sign posts. Most residents just stay home and wait it out. I made it to ICBC at 2:30 in the afternoon, only to be told they were closing early because of the typhoon, and that I would have to return the following day.

So the next day I woke bright and early, and arrived at ICBC at 9:30 am. Upon talking the clerk, I realized that my extra precautions had been well-thought out.

“Yes, in order to reset your password you do have to be in Fuqing. This can not be done in Beijing or even Fuzhou,” he told me. “However, you can not do it at this branch. You must go to the exact same branch where you opened your account.”

The clerk looked up my account on the computer, and then hand wrote the address of the downtown branch where I would need to go. (Fuqing is a tiny city and the whole thing can be covered on foot in a matter of hours, yet like most small Chinese towns, ICBC branches number in the double digits).

I flagged down a cab, and headed over to the downtown area and await my date with Chinese banking destiny. When I arrived at ICBC, I explained my situation to the clerk behind the teller window, and told her I had been sent there by the other branch. “You need to talk to that man over there,” she said, pointing to a man seated at a desk in the lobby. “He’s the manager. He can help you.”

I walked across the lobby and sat down in the chair facing the manager’s desk. He had been chatting with a group of redundant security guards, and turned around to face me.

“How can I help you?”

“Ok, here’s my situation. I arrived in Beijing, and the first thing I did was to go to an ICBC ATM at the airport to withdraw money. I put my card in the first machine. It spit it out saying that the ATM was out of service. Then I tried another ATM, and had the same result. Finally, I found a third ATM, entered my password and mistyped a character. I tried to withdraw again, and the machine told me I had exceeded three incorrect logins, and I could no longer make a withdrawal. I am currently staying in Beijing, so I went to a Beijing ICBC branch and explained my situation to them. They said I would need to reset my password, and this could only be done in Fujian, so here I am.”

“I see,” he said. “Well, the clerk in Beijing was right. It is an ICBC regulation that resetting one’s password must be done at the branch where they opened their account…So let’s get you taken care of. All you need to do is fill out these forms…”

“check”

“make a copy of your passport…”

“got it right here”

“and come back in seven days to come back and change your password.”

“Seven days? I’ll be back in Beijing by then!”

“Well then you will just have to do it next time you come back to Fuqing and stay for seven days.”

“I live in Chicago,” I exclaimed to him, still keeping my composure and polite form, “It’s not like I book regular seven day stays in Fuqing whenever I please. I really have no idea when the next time I will be in Fuqing will be, or if I will ever stay a full seven days. I already came all the way from Beijing, and I just want to get my money.”

“Yeah, I know. I really want to help you, and the system is quite inefficient, but there is nothing we can do. Regulations are regulations.” He sat there pondering. I could see he was honestly trying to figure out a way to get me out of my predicament.

“There is one thing,” he shot up, “You can find a local person in Fuqing, put in a password change request, and then sign your account over to them. In seven days they can come back, change your password, withdraw your money, and send it to you.”

It was a round-about, yet brilliant idea, and I knew exactly who I could trust to help me with the situation. I called my old colleague from my former university, Da Sen, who incidentally was also the first person I ever met in China. Da Sen had been the representative from the school who had picked me up at the airport when I first arrived. He was also the teacher assigned to be my helper, and thus had assisted me with tasks such as opening a bank account, getting a haircut, locating deodorant, and all the other daily troubles China newbies need assistance with.

The typhoon was raging full speed by this time, and I felt a little uneasy asking Da Sen to come out in such horrible weather to be my assistant in wading through bureaucracy, but there was no other alternative. I flagged down a taxi, headed over to the university, picked up Da Sen, and the two of us returned to ICBC.

Armed with my forms, my passport, and now a local to whom I could sign over my account, I strolled back into ICBC confident that once and for all the matter would be resolved. A young girl, no older than twenty was seated behind the teller window. Da Sen and I approached the window, and I explained my situation to her.

“I need to reset my password, but I will not be in Fuqing for 7 days. I want to sign my account over to my friend so that he can withdraw the money, and then send it to me. Here are all the forms, my passport, and his ID card.” Before I could slip the documents under the teller window, the young girl retorted,

“That is impossible.”

“What do you mean? All I want to do is sign my account over to him so that he can change my password. I have both of our ID’s and all the forms right here.”

“You can’t do that.” she turned to the other tellers sitting behind the windows on both sides of her.

“No, that is impossible. We can not do that for you,” one of them replied in agreement while the other shook her head.

My Chinese bank vocabulary is pretty solid, but even still, I could normally attribute a situation like this to a possible misinterpretation on my part. That would hold water had it not been for the fact that Da Sen, who is Chinese, had also spoken with the manager on the phone before he came to the bank, and clearly understood his instructions about signing my account over to him. By now I was getting angry, and this was being reflected in my tone of voice.

“The manager who was sitting at the desk over there specifically told me I could do it. he was sitting right there, and he specifically told me I could sign my account over to a friend.”

The manager had apparently gone to lunch and was now nowhere to be seen. I pointed over to the desk where he had been sitting, hoping the teller would know who I was referring to.

“Oh him?…He’s not really the manager,” she said.

“Yes he is, he said he was the 经理. His button said 经理.”*

“He’s just the 经理of the lobby. He doesn’t have any authority. What he said doesn’t matter. I am afraid you are just going to have to come back in seven days to reset your password.”

“Listen, I came all the way from Beijing, and was specifically told I could sign my account over to my friend. I have already visited two separate branches, was told to leave and come back with a Chinese friend, got my friend, brought him back here through the typhoon, and have already wasted hours of my time based on instructions I was given by your bank. I am not leaving without this matter being resolved.”

The three teller women conferred with one another, and after about ten minutes of deliberation, including some argumentative but civil words from Da Sen, they relented.

“Ok, you can sign the account over to him. But you are going to need to fill out those forms all over again, and I will need to make copies of both of your IDs.”

As Da Sen and I labored through the paperwork, the girl took our IDs and made copies. When she emerged, she and the other employees huddled around the copies, once again. After several minutes, she returned to the teller window.

“I am sorry, but the person on this passport is not the same person as the one who holds this account.”

“That’s impossible!” I shouted back, using the same lingo I have so often heard from bank employees.**

“Look here. The owner of this account is ‘Benjamin Ross,’ but this passport is for ‘Benjamin David Ross.’”

From this point, Da Sen, also growing increasingly frustrated, took over. “Look, in the United States most people have a middle name. However, they rarely use it. Usually they just write their first and last name. So it’s really just the same.”

“But the name on the passport must match the name on the bank account,” the girl sternly replied.

“That’s not our fault!” Da Sen argued back. “I was with him when we opened the account. We presented you with his passport. If the bank did not write it the same as it is on the passport, then that is the bank’s fault, not ours.”

“That does not matter. We still need proof that this is the same person as the one on the bank account.”

This was the point where my anger began morphing into pure amusement. Fuqing has few, if any, foreign residents. It is quite likely that I am probably the only American who has ever opened an ICBC account in Fuqing, let alone the only American with the name of “Benjamin Ross” to have opened on. I had my bank card with me, as well as a passport with a picture of a guy who looked strikingly similar to the one standing in front of the teller window. Even a chimpanzee with Alzheimer’s could have ascertained I was the rightful owner of the account.

After conferring with her colleagues, the girl turned to us once again. “We will need to send your documentation over to the main provincial ICBC office in Fuzhou. They will research the matter and determine whether or not there is enough proof that you are the proper owner of the bank account. Come back after three o’clock and we will tell you the result.”

I already had afternoon plans to hang out with my barbershop buddies in Fuzhou and would have to leave Fuqing around lunch time. There was no chance I could be back at the bank at three.

“What if they determine there is not enough proof?” I asked.

“Then you will need to fill out all the paperwork to do a proper name change.”

“Can I just do all the paperwork now, just in case it doesn’t work out? Then I won’t have to make a second trip to Fuqing.”

“No, you can not. We will need to research it first, and then you can come back after three, and fill out the paperwork then.”

Confused, frustrated, angry, dejected, and with feelings bordering on violence and rage, I left the bank. Never before in my life have I ever had the urge to barge into a public venue, strapped with a vest of dynamite. Now, at least I knew that if it ever came to that, I would know exactly where to go. I made my way to the bus station where I boarded the bus to Fuzhou, wondering whether I would ever see my money again.

Around four o’clock, I received a phone call from Da Sen.

“The bank manager called me, and told me that they found there was not significant proof to show the bank account was yours. You are going to need to go back to Fuqing to fill out a ‘name change’ form, and then the do the ‘password reset’ forms all over again. There is no other way to get your money.”

So the following day I took the bus back to Fuqing, and met Da Sen back at the bank. We asked to speak with the manager who had originally contacted him, and when she came out from the back, I spoke.

“Hello, I am that foreigner in question who needs proof that the account is his.”

“Oh yes, I remember. You are going to need to go to the other branch first, and submit the name change form. They are in charge of name changes on accounts. Then bring the name change form back to this branch and we will submit the password change.”

So Da Sen and I took his electric bike over to the ICBC branch which was in charge of name changes. We filled out several forms on which I carefully printed my name as ‘Benjamin David Ross,” and returned to the original branch. After another ten minutes of forms, we were done. Compared with the previous day, going from bank to bank to bank and filling out a mountain of paperwork seemed like a relatively seamless trip to ICBC. The manager assured me that in seven days Da Sen will be able to return to the bank, fill out more paperwork, change my password, withdraw my money, and send it to me in Beijing…I’m giving it a 50/50 chance everything works out.

* (jing1 li3, manager)
**The actual phrase I used was 不可能 (bu4 ke3 neng2), which literally means “impossible.”

concluded in More Scuffles with the Bank Part 4:  My ‘Happy Ending’


 

06.26.08

More Scuffles with the Bank (continued)

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants at 10:09 am by Benjamin Ross

Remember my little issue I had at the Beijing airport where the ATMs were saying I had exceeded my incorrect password limit? Well, today my worst fears were confirmed. I went in to Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC), and after waiting in a 30 minute queue, explained to one of their employees my situation—in a nutshell that I had been jetlagged, half asleep, and barely functioning after 22 hours of travel, and had entered my password incorrectly twice at the ATMs at the airport, thus somehow exceeding the limit of 4 incorrect logins. (Apparently trying to get money out of a broken ATM counts as an incorrect login). Well, for the past two weeks, every single Chinese ATM has been rejecting my card on account of those two incorrect password attempts. I had brought my ATM card and passport to the bank, and asked if they could reset my incorrect login attempts so that I could access my money. Seems like a reasonable request, right? I have my passport; I do actually know my password, and am 100% sure I could get it right\ now that I haven’t been awake for 30 hours straight. It would seem fairly obvious that I am, in fact, Benjamin D. Ross, and not some random impersonator trying to steal his 1400 RMB. But nooooooo! Here’s what the clerk told me.

“This is not a Beijing ICBC card. It was opened in another province. So all you have to do is just go back to the ICBC branch where you opened the card, and you can reset your password there. Matters such as these always need to be handled at the branch where you opened your account.”

“I opened this account in Fujian.”

“Well, then just go back to Fujian and straighten it out there.”

“Why can’t I get it done here in Beijing? I have an ICBC account and this is an ICBC branch.”

“It is for the protection of our customer’s deposits.”

“I think that’s pretty stupid, and all it is doing is protecting the cardholder from withdrawing his own money.”

“Actually, It is a very stupid system, but what can we do? You are going to have to go back to Fujian to get your money.”

Now, fortunately I do plan to go back to Fujian during this trip, and can (presumably) get this all straightened out when I go back. However, imagine if I wasn’t going back to Fujian on this trip, which seems like an entirely plausible situation. Or worse yet, imagine if I was Chinese, and had no foreign bank account to fall back on. What if I had been traveling in Beijing and the same situation had happened? What if my wallet had been stolen? How would I get back to Fujian to get a new card if I had no access to my bank account? How could I buy my train ticket without any money? With 1.3 billion people (officially) in China, and many of them traveling around the country, I would imagine this problem occurs every day.

This is a common problem with many of China’s state-run enterprises—lack of centralization, at least in terms of customer service. Namely, that systems are set in place assuming that people would never actually get up and move about the country. If I want to buy a round trip train ticket from Beijing to Fuzhou, I have to wait until I get to Fuzhou to buy the ticket back to Beijing. In any city, you can only purchase train tickets which originate from that particular city. Same holds true with cell phones. Previously when I had a Fujian SIM card, it was nearly impossible to buy more minutes outside of Fujian when I would travel. Typically, when my phone ran out of money, I would have to contact a friend in Fujian, have them buy a card, charge my phone up, and then pay them back when I returned. On this trip, I haven’t really ventured far from Beijing yet, so I’d be curious if this policy has been modified at all.

The moral of the story is, however, DO NOT under any circumstances forget (or enter incorrectly twice) your ATM password or lose your ATM card. The Chinese banking systems are not equipped to handle people who are mobile. You will likely be setting yourself up for much more trouble than you ever bargained for. Personally I am curious if I will actually be able to straighten this whole mess out once I do get to Fujian, or if I have just made an unwilling charitable contribution to ICBC.

cont’d in More Scuffles with the Bank, Part 3:  Assets still Frozen, Hope on the Horizon

By the way, I’ve decided that my qualms and skirmishes with Chinese banks have accumulated to the point where I am now honoring them with their own category.


 

06.14.08

First Impressions of Beijing’s New Airport Terminal and More Scuffles with the Bank

Posted in Beijing, Chinese Bank Rants, Travel Log (Asia) at 12:35 pm by Benjamin Ross

The clock on my computer says 1:22 AM, but at this point I’m not even sure if that’s accurate or not, nor do I care. All I know is that I am in Beijing, with a boatload of traveling behind me and a ton of sleep in ahead.

My first impression of China on this trip was that of something which will be many peoples’ first impression of China in the years to come—the new international terminal at Beijing Capital Airport, which opened in March in anticipation of the Summer Olympic travel rush.

My very first ever impression of China also was at Beijing Capital Airport back in March of 2004. This, of course, was before the new glitzy terminal had been built. I remember exiting the 747 directly onto the tarmac and being picked up by a multi-segmented truck which looked like it had been left over from the Cultural Revolution days. During the bumpy ride to the terminal my mind couldn’t help but wonder where I came up with this crazy idea to move to China.

As I alluded to above, the new international is glitzy. I can’t think of any better term to describe it. It’s modern, clean, and well-lit, yet still has that same neutral, grey, Chinese-airport ambiance to it. Passengers exit directly onto terminal gates, and then are shuttled to the baggage claim via a modern-style tram, similar to those in international airports around the world. It’s a major improvement over the previous setup, and although it may seem superficial, this new terminal will certainly give foreign visitors a more comforting first impression on the Middle Kingdom.

My only qualm with the new terminal may be the issue of money. (longtime readers of this blog know that I already have a history of skirmishes with the Chinese banking system). I still hold an Industrial and Commercial Bank of China account, and had planned on withdrawing money as soon as I arrived in Beijing. The new airport terminal has ATMs from the big 4 Chinese banks, and in accordance to custom, half of them were either out of service or out of money. This was the case for the ICBC ATM. It was brand spanking new, with a premium, flashy, bright color screen, and was enclosed by a glass door to give privacy to the user. I’m sure it would have been a pleasure to use…if it had been working properly. To make matters even more frustrating, I had to insert my card, type my passcode, navigate through several menus, and then wait 2 full minutes for the machine to “process my request.” It was only after doing all of this, that the screen politely informed me that it was out of service.

I walked across the hall to the Agricultural Bank of China ATM, inserted my card, entered my password, and requested 300 RMB. (For a small fee, card holders from one Chinese bank may withdraw funds from another). The ATM replied that my password was incorrect and I would need to try again. I hadn’t used my card since I was last in China in October of ‘07, and while I wasn’t 100% sure of my password, I knew it could only be one of two different combinations. I inserted my card again, ready to try the second password. I was told I had exceeded my incorrect logins and could not proceed.

Seeing where I had made an error, I went up to the fourth floor to the Bank of China ATM to try the alternate password which I knew by process of elimination, had to be correct. As soon as I inserted my card, I received the same memo I had gotten from the Agricultural Bank—“incorrect logins exceeded.” Apparently, the different banks are linked in their quest to stop the problem of ATM card thieves from correctly guessing passwords…on their second try!

Near the Bank of China ATM was a currency exchange booth. As a general rule, it is never a good idea to exchange currency in an airport because of the ridiculously low rates, but I was going to need to pay for a cab. I had no other choice. The current exchange rate between RMB and USD is just under 7 to 1. I handed the woman behind at the currency exchange a 20 dollar bill. She gave me 86 RMB. This would barely even be enough to pay for the cab to my apartment. I returned the RMB, and taking back my 20, headed back to the Bank of China ATM. Finally, I settled on drawing money directly out of my US account, international transfer fees and all—something I try to avoid doing, especially when I have RMB already sitting in a Chinese account.

The scary part of this is that a) I speak Chinese b) I have lived in China for almost 4 years and c) I have a Chinese bank account. If it was this much trouble for me to get money, I can only imagine how difficult it would have been had it been my first time in the country. Well, at least the new terminal looks great! By the way, here are some pics.  And also, the banking saga is continued here.

Beijing Capital Airport
Beijing Airport New International Terminal
Beijing China Airport

 

06.22.07

I must have a chip in my ATM card which says “Give Me Fake Money!”

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Chinese Bank Rants, Personal Anecdotes at 8:51 pm by Benjamin Ross

It happened again…I was having lunch at Fuzhou’s newest (and only) Indian restaurant today, and after receiving the bill, I handed the waitress a 100 RMB note from my wallet. A few minutes later, she meandered back to my table, handed my 100 back to me, and using the typical face saving protocol kindly asked, “Do you think you could give me a different bill?”

Knowing exactly what she was implying I felt the bill in my hands. “Wow, this is definitely a fake.” I told her. “I had no idea. Sorry about that.” She smiled back at me and I gave her a new bill.

fake 100 RMB ren men bi Chinese yuan
One of these bills is real, and the other is counterfeit. Both came from ATMs.

The bill in question had come from an ATM. This is not the first time I have received fake money from an ATM in China, nor the second, nor the third. It’s the fourth time in three plus years. At this rate, the Bank of China is probably distributing more fake money per year than the Parker Brothers. The general rule of thumb in China is that if you receive fake money, you must say so before you walk away from the transaction. Otherwise, it is your own responsibility (read: fault). Therefore, it is not uncommon to have your money turned down for various reasons, even if it is real. Last week a cab driver refused to accept a 100 from me because a chunk, literally smaller than one square centimeter, was torn of one corner. On several occasions I have been the victim, or the attempted victim of hit and run fake money scams, usually involving taxi drivers with fake 50’s.

I like to group counterfeit money incidents into two groups 1) my fault and 2) not my fault. The last time I received fake money was from a Chinese fast food (快餐)joint where I was having lunch. I did not realize that the 50 RMB note they gave me as change was fake until I tried to deposit it at the bank and it was confiscated. This instance was my own fault since I accepted the bill and walked away without saying anything. This is the way things are done in China, and I am more than willing to play by the rules so long as I can use the rules to my advantage when it is appropriate.

However, I find it hard to deem myself responsible when fake currency is dispensed from a state run bank. I must add that since my last episode with fake Chinese money, a Chinese friend has clued me in on how to report it if you catch fake money coming from an ATM. Apparently if you count your money while standing in front of the ATM, and receive a fake, you can call the police from your cell phone. If you do not move away from the ATM until the police come, the security camera images will then provide ample proof that your counterfeit currency came from that particular ATM. This seems like a feasible solution assuming there isn’t a crowd of people waiting behind you to use the same ATM. In a country of 1.3 billion people, this is rarely the case. Personally, I have no problem examining my currency whenever I am handed change from an individual, but I do not think I am out of line when saying that this step should not be necessary when using state run banks’ ATMs.

However, the most annoying part is not the fake money itself, but the fact that no Chinese people believe me that a Bank of China ATM could give me fake money, even though it has happened 4 times now (counting one from the Agriculture bank) in 3 plus years. “That is impossible.” “Counterfeit money doesn’t come from banks.” “Somebody must have given that to you.” “You are a foreigner, you just don’t know the difference.” These are the kinds of responses I get. The reason I am positive all of these fake notes come from ATMs is that 95% of all the 100’s I use come from ATMs. There is no bill larger than the 100. I usually go to the ATM, withdraw 800 RMB (since it is mentally like 100 U.S. dollars), and then break those 100’s down into change as I buy things. Whereas fake 50’s often come from change, this is impossible with a 100, since it is the largest denomination of Chinese currency. Every time I have received a fake 100, I have traced it back to an ATM.

I doubt that Chinese ATM’s are sophisticated enough to dispense disproportionate amounts of fake currency to foreigners, but you never know. Has anybody else been getting fake money from ATM’s lately or have even the ATM’s now been trained to specifically rip off the lao wai?


 

04.30.07

Revenge of the Bank

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants, Personal Anecdotes at 8:03 pm by Benjamin Ross

Last week I had my first sweet, sweet taste of revenge against the merciless Chinese banking system. This week, they had their chance to fight back—the culprit was a fake 50 RMB note that was in my wallet.

I had been waiting in line at the bank to transfer my rent money to my landlord, when I noticed that one of the 50s in my wallet was clearly fake. I haven’t mention this much in my blog before, but here’s my policy on fake money—spend it. Counterfeit notes are everywhere in China, and anybody who has lived here for an extended period of time surely has experiences with them. The way I look at it, counterfeit money is just an inconvenience. Somebody passes me a fake. If I notice it is fake, I don’t accept it. If I fail to notice it, therefore it’s my own fault. Now I have to deal with the aggravation of passing it off to somebody else, who inevitably will have to deal with the aggravation of passing it on to another person. Nobody really loses out except Uncle Mao. (Actually, the majority of fake money I have received has come from official ATMs which I don’t consider my fault. I still follow the same policy). Bearing this in mind, I should add that I never pass fake money to people I know, small shop owners, or street vendors. Instead I try to use it at large grocery stores, McDonald’s, or in taxi cabs (where most of the fake money originates in the first place). I’m not sure if this is completely morally sound, but it helps me sleep better at night.

The other day, I had the stupid idea of using my fake 50 at the bank. Usually when you use fake money, the person you hand it to, simply says 换一张 (you got another one?), and hands back your bill sparing you the embarrassment of telling you it’s fake. At the bank this is not the case. The teller ran my stack of 14 bills through a little machine, and immediately picked up on the fake 50. Without fighting, I slid two twenties and a ten under the window. She took my cash, and told me that she would be confiscating the 50. “That’s my property.” I insisted, but there was nothing I could do from behind the bullet-proof glass. The teller marked the fake note with a small stamp, then called another clerk over who stamped the note at least 15 times on both sides. I was then required to fill out a “receipt for the seizure of counterfeit currency” form. The point of this form, presumably, is to take to the original passer of the fake money, and ask for a return. I was able to trace back the fake 50 to a 快餐 (cheap, buffet-style Chinese food) restaurant near my house. I pondered taking my frustrations to them, and asking for a replacement, but this would have run counter to the “it’s your own fault” theory which I subscribe to.

receipt for seizure of counterfeit currency china RMB
In the event that I ever need to prove to somebody that I tried to pass a counterfeit note at t.he bank, I now have an official “Receipt for the Seizure of Counterfeit Currency.”

Regardless of my frustrations, the bank does have a policy of confiscating counterfeit money, and it was my own dumb-ass fault for trying my counterfeit note at the bank. Fittingly, I got what I deserved. This does not change my opinion that the Chinese banks’ policies are designed to ensure that in the event of any discrepancy, the customer, not the bank, invariably bites the bullet. When viewed independently, it makes perfect sense for the bank to confiscate counterfeit money. However, this policy comes off slightly hypocritical when you consider these same banks also dispense fake notes from their own ATMs. I think next time I am given a fake 100 from a Chinese ATM, I am going to confiscate the fake, demand the ATM give me a replacement, and ask it to fill out a form documenting the event. I’ll let you know how successful this goes.

So for those of you not keeping score at home, here’s the tally.

Chinese banks: 350 RMB

Ben: 116.2 RMB

After being beaten fair and square by the Chinese banks, all I can say is that I am even more sure I did the right by thing keeping the 116.2 RMB last week.


 

04.18.07

Chinese Banks: The Sweet Taste of Revenge

Posted in Chinese Bank Rants, Personal Anecdotes at 11:01 pm by Benjamin Ross

Yesterday I went to the bank to pick up some money my boss had sent me from the US to pay for my Chinese visa. The expected total was to be 1120.6 RMB. I filled out the transfer forms, and the teller informed me she would be giving me 1226.8 RMB. She wrote down the total on the form, counted out the cash, and handed it to me. I was a little surprised at this apparent oversight, but assumed it was a simple currency exchange miscalculation on my boss’s end. I took my cash, and was on my way.

Half an hour later I received a call from the bank teller. She told me the bank had made an error, and had given me too much money. They asked when I could come back and return the extra 116.2 RMB.

Normally this would have been a no-brainer. Yes, at times in my dark past I have been known to purchase pirated DVDs and steal wireless Internet, but I have always believed money should be returned in the case of an honest mistake. Then another thought occurred to me. I remembered sign which has perturbed me since the first time I was able to read it. It reads like this: 当面点钱,离开不负责 and can be found in big letters at every bank in China. It means “Count your money at the teller window. Once you leave the window we are not responsible.” In other words, “If the bank makes a mistake, you have to bite the bullet because it’s your own damn fault for not catching it in time.” And bite the bullet I have done, like the 3 separate occasions when Chinese banks have given me counterfeit 100 RMB notes. According to the policy, which is posted on the sign, there was nothing I could have done since I had not noticed it at the time the transaction took place.

If by chance this particular bank had given me less money than I should have received, and I hadn’t realized it at the time, there is no way in hell they would have given me my money back. It would have been my own fault for not counting the money on the spot…as is clearly indicated by the sign.

It was my thinking that it is only fair that the rule work both ways. 离开不负责 does not distinguish between the 2 parties involved. It simply reads “leave, no responsibility.” Once the customer walks away from the teller window, all responsibility is absolved. If the bank makes a mistake that favors me, and they do not catch it on the spot, I should be able to keep the money, as well as a clear conscience.

The next morning I sent a text message to the bank teller to inform her that I would not be returning the bank’s money.

“There is a sign in your bank which clearly says, count your money on the spot or else we are not responsible. This is your bank’s own regulation, and I plan to follow the regulation accordingly. I am not responsible for the money you miscounted.”

She replied, “Yes, I know we have that sign, but this is not about the sign, it is about honesty. If you do not return the money, there is nothing I can do, but I know I gave you an extra 100 RMB.”

I replied back, “This is not about honesty. This is about policy. If you had given me 100 RMB less than I should have received, and I had come back a half hour later, you would not have returned my money. That is the regulation. If there had been no sign and no regulation, I would gladly have returned your 100 RMB, but since you have this regulation, I am going to follow it.”

She replied, “If we had given you less money, it would have been caught on the security camera. You could have reported it or called the police.”

My urge was to respond with a big fat 狗屁 (bullshit, literally “dog fart”), but I decided to give it a rest. She sent one more last ditch effort to appeal to my conscience, but to no avail. My mind was set. I was not going to return the money.

I have been running through the episode for the past 24 hours, and can’t help but think that I did the right thing. I really could care less about the 116.2 RMB, but I certainly could not live with myself had I allowed the bank redemption for their mistake, knowing full-well that if the tables were turned, I would have been screwed with no remorse. Had this event happened in an American bank, or a Chinese bank without the warning sign, I would have returned the money without second thought. But when you’re living in an untrusting world where everybody is out to cover his own ass, sometimes you have to cover your own as well.

continued on 4/30/07 in Revenge of the Bank

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