Dark Money

Dark Money

Another day, another scandal: CBA blames customers for identity theft

Customers don’t expect their banking documents to be found in a gutter on the other side of the country, let alone have the bank blame them. Dave Hunt/AAP

Barry Lakeman has had a gutful. “I’ve got bone cancer,” says the 59-year-old farmer from outback Western Australia. “The chances of pulling through are about 60/40.” Worse, he says, his son is disabled. He has epilepsy and a brain tumour and requires special medical treatment.

On top of all this, Lakeman is a victim of identity theft. Last month, local police called to ask him if he’d lost his gun licence. They had found it, they told him. It displayed his photo but the licence number didn’t match. “It was a forgery … the number at the top of the card was different from the number on my card.”

Lakeman’s banking documents were found in a gutter in Victoria three years ago. Today, an officer from the Commonwealth Bank called him and suggested he or his wife Karen had taken the documents to Victoria themselves; that they’d lost them.

“There were other incidents,” says Lakeman. “In 2015, a company in Victoria rang me and said, ‘We have finished the canvas for your caravan.’ … I don’t even own a caravan.”

Barry and Karen Lakeman. Author provided

That year, the Northam police, southeast of the WA town of Toodyay where the Lakemans now reside, told him they were investigating the identity theft. They were assisted by Geoff Shannon, the principal of Unhappy Banking, who took the case to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), a bank-funded scheme to resolve customer complaints about banks.

“It doesn’t look like an isolated incident,” says Shannon. “There are credit cards and so on, identities for sale on the dark web and we know people were quietly sacked from BankWest (owned by CBA) in 2014 for selling documents.”

Cover-ups compound the mistakes

Emails from a BankWest source, obtained by michaelwest.com.au, describe a meeting that took place at the bank’s headquarters in WA on November 14, 2014.

“This week we were all ushered into a meeting and asked to sign a confidentiality form about what was discussed in the meeting. We were informed nothing in this meeting would be put in writing as they did not want a paper trail,” said the email.

“We were informed in the meeting that a large number of staff had just been sacked due to fraudulent activity, essentially some were ripping off customers, some were ripping off the bank. As you can imagine this is very hush hush and they would be really pissed off if the media found out.”

Detailed questions were put to Commonwealth Bank about the meeting and claims, contained in the emails, that staff had sold confidential customer documents. The bank declined to respond. The bank also declined to respond to questions about the Lakeman case, saying it did not talk about individual client matters.

A report in The West Australian in July this year said counterfeit BankWest credit cards and utility bills were openly for sale on the dark web. This story came hard on the heels of revelations that Medicare details could be bought on the internet.

Whether the BankWest credit cards and Lakeman’s personal documents were stolen by the same people is uncertain. But it was just a few days later that the bank called the Lakemans and told them their documents had been found by the side of the road in Victoria.

“It was November 26, 2014. I was out harvesting and we were waiting for the contractors to come in and the phone went. It was a phone call from the local bank manager,” says Lakeman.

“He told me they had had a phone call from Alexandria in Victoria. We were told ‘All your banking documents, your ABN, your phone number, all your details have been found beside the side of the road.’

"How did they get there?” I asked.

“Have you and your wife been to Victoria?”

“Not for three years.”

“Your wife must have taken them over there and left them there.”

“I went off my head,” said Lakeman. “It’s 4,000k away. We were never told who found them or when. It really hurt us because when we tried to move and buy a house there was a black mark against us. It affected our credit rating.”

Lakeman is not happy the bank is still running the line that he and his wife might be responsible for their own identity theft.

The CBA is by no means alone in being vulnerable to the identity theft of its clients. All banks are surely susceptible to the same risks. The broader issue is how they handle it. Mistakes happen, it is cover-ups that are avoidable.

As the government continues to hold fast in the face of rising community calls for a royal commission into the banks, it has emerged that the CBA’s money-laundering scandal appears to have been accompanied by a cover-up.

Bank executives were told about deficiencies in their transactions monitoring in 2015. They spent the next two years fobbing off investigations by the Australian Federal Police and AUSTRAC.

The bank is used to getting its own way with regulators and, according to sources, felt it could contain the problem. AUSTRAC finally got fed up and filed a lawsuit against the bank.

CBA has sought to contain or cover up all its scandals. It threatened to pull its advertising from Fairfax Media when the financial services scandal broke – it tried to contain it. It tried to contain Storm Financial Group, Comminsure and then the massive money-laundering scandal now afoot – 55,700 breaches.

And now there is identity theft on top. “Why didn’t they call the fraud squad, or the police?” asks Barry Lakeman.

A good question, indeed.


This column, co-published by The Conversation with michaelwest.com.au, is part of the Democracy Futures series, a joint global initiative between The Conversation and the Sydney Democracy Network. The project aims to stimulate fresh thinking about the many challenges facing democracies in the 21st century.

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