The French, bless their chaussettes en coton
, are fairly legendary for the depth, complexity and Gallic impenetrability of their bureaucracy, which is implemented and negotiated with a sort of cheerfully inflexible bloody-minded patience one has to reluctantly admire. They also do it all in French, which adds to my French-house-owning and bank-account-managing activities a certain forehead-knotting challenge. My French was never fluid or flexible, and A-level travails were really a hell of a long time ago.
There are, however, moments when one has to salute, with a certain tearful relief, the impenetrable thickets of red tape. On Monday I received a cheerful little e-mail missive from my French bank, which, after I'd shunted it through Google Translate and untangled a couple of the more surreal phrases with recourse to my Wordsworth French-English-English-French, turned out to be a polite request for confirmation of the transfer of in excess of EUR4000 from my French account to South Africa. Needless to say, my French bank account, which has been happily accumulating rent and bankrolling repairs at more or less neck-and-neck speeds, doesn't actually contain EUR4000, and I certainly wouldn't be transferring it to South Africa if it did. A certain amount of "eek", shall we say, resulted. Thank heavens the slow-grinding mills of French banking entail a laudable element of paranoia.
There remains, of course, the question of how the hell anyone in SA got hold of my French bank account details in the first place. I have a French credit card, but have never activated or used it, and don't even usually carry it in my wallet. Nonetheless I cannot but feel that this attempt at bank fraud comes very suspiciously on the heels of the wallet robbery experience; I can't find the card in the slightly shambolic desk drawer in which it usually resides, and am inclining to the suspicion that I took it to Australia with me just in case mine proved temperamental, and being distracted by unexpected hospitalisation and the aftermath, never got around to taking it out. I didn't even think of cancelling it when I cancelled all the other cards after the robbery, which was stupid - I should have checked.
But the attempted transfer wasn't, apparently, on the credit card: it was on the cheque account. Dubious scammers could have acquired the details in, I suppose, a number of inventive and/or happenstance ways, which I list in order of increasing likelihood:
- The bastard hedge-trimmer could have creatively used the French credit card in some way unknown to me to dig up related account information, although this seems far-fetched; it's far more likely that he actually abstracted a bank printout from my desk while I was distracted by extension cords. I can't find one missing, though, and it would have had to be lying on top of my in-tray, he really had no more than a few seconds in which to act.
- There may have been some other piece of paper in my wallet which included the account number. I can't think of what it would be, and it's not the sort of thing I usually carry for good and sufficient security reasons, but I suppose there's a chance.
- The time-concatenation with the wallet theft may be coincidence: I may have incautiously thrown out something with an account number on it, which might have ended up in the recycling and been abstracted and put to illegal use by a recycle-sorter.
- The time-concatenation with the wallet theft may be coincidence: some noxious individual may have abstracted a bank statement from the postbox before I actually got hold of it. This is actually very likely, since the bank has my home address, and the house postbox lost its padlock to rust a while back and we've never got around to replacing it.
I am very enamoured of my French bank. Not content with emailing me and requesting confirmation of the transfer, they emailed me back within a day to confirm that they'd blocked the transfer and to give me the details on how to cancel the credit card. Since this entails phoning a French number and navigating the process in French, I was still girding my loins when they took matters into their own hands by phoning me at home, divined my frozen horror at their opening barrage of rapid-fire French by the tonal quality of my slightly desperate "Bonjour", switched to slightly laboured but perfectly adequate English, confirmed the transfer cancellation, instituted a new process whereby any
transfer out of that account needs a hard copy with my signature, changed my statement address to the far more secure box number, and emailed me, in English, within half an hour of all of the above to confirm it all. I'm a bit stunned, but fortunately don't need to actually parry as apparently they do all that for you. Gawsh.
Things To Do: replace the padlock on the postbox, and change the address details on the few outstanding accounts which use it to the box number. Improve my French conversation. Add to my list of insomnia-beating mental exercises the pleasantly sadistic process of inventing new and ungodly deaths for bank scammers and hedge-trimmers and their noxious ilk. Feel incredibly relieved.