Tony Hunt discovered that someone had used his details to apply for a Macquarie Gold Visa card. Photo: Brendan Esposito

The bank told him he was a victim of identity theft. He told the bank, if he was a victim of anything, it was of bank incompetence.

Tony Hunt discovered last year that Macquarie Bank had advanced funds “apparently over $20,000” to someone purporting to be him.

How could they allow over $20,000 to be advanced without making proper checks?
– Tony Hunt

The financial adviser turned teacher – and president of Scrabble NSW – first heard of it when he was contacted by a collection agency, Panthera Finance.

Illustration: Michael Mucci

“My initial contact from Panthera I disregarded as a scam, as I knew that I had no credit advanced to me by Macquarie and figured that as an existing Macquarie customer (with over $300,000 invested with them) that if they wanted to discuss anything with me, they would contact me directly,” says Hunt.

After a year he was contacted again by Panthera Finance. They insisted that he did have a debt with Macquarie, whereupon he contacted Macquarie Cards and discovered that someone had used his details to apply for a Macquarie Gold Visa card – using a fake address.

“What amazed me is that they then said they hold ME responsible for the debt! They asked ME to report the matter to the police, even though I have no evidence to give them; no copies of application forms, no understanding of the process that Macquarie had followed (or failed to follow) before advancing funds.”

Tony Hunt says he was ‘quite disturbed’ that the fraud should have been allowed to happen.

So Hunt advised Macquarie that it was they, rather than he, who should go to the police as they were the ones out of pocket.

“But they said they couldn’t”.

We approached the bank with questions, wanting to ask things like, “Why couldn’t you?”.

“We don’t discuss individual client matters,” said a spokesperson, well practiced in the art of disavowals and utterances of nothingness.

“We handle these infrequent issues in line with established industry protocols.”

How “infrequent” are these incidents really? If it is that easy to steal somebody’s identity, get a credit card and rack up a $20,000 debt with apparent impunity, it couldn’t be too infrequent.

Estimates by the Attorney-General’s Department put the cost of identity crime at $1.6 billion a year, with the bulk of that, $900 million, due to credit card fraud.

Anyway, Tony Hunt says he was “quite disturbed” that the fraud should have been allowed to happen as “at any time after funds had been advanced, they (the bank) could have contacted me by letter or phone and I could have told them that the application did not come from me.

“No contact – nothing – until I got letter from Panthera,” says Hunt.

“How could they allow over $20,000 to be advanced without making proper checks?

“How then can they then hold a person responsible for the debt who did not make the application? Why did they not pursue the person who made the false claims to get credit?”

Perhaps this is “established industry protocol”.

“In the end I got too stressed by calls and requests from Macquarie to do this and that,” says Hunt. “They wanted me to get a Veda credit report and lodge a police report etc, basically they wanted me to be an unpaid debt collector on their behalf.”

Hunt says he offered to work with the bank to assist its officers in getting their funds back, “provided they acknowledge that I was not responsible for the debt (and also for a reasonable hourly rate). They refused this offer.”

In the end he says he got sick of “being hassled … and I asked them to desist in making any further communications with me and that if they contacted me again about it I would report them to the police for harassment.”

He hasn’t heard from them since, in relation to this matter at least, and is still unsure whether the bank still holds him responsible for having his identity stolen.

The issue of broader public concern, says Hunt, is that a large financial institution can so easily advance funds to people who are misrepresenting others. It is likely that all banks are conned by identity thieves. Macquarie is by no means alone, though basic checks could easily have averted the crime.

“The other issue is that rather than acknowledging that they have made a mistake and seeking to work cooperatively with related parties, they take the approach of holding the innocent party responsible for the debts incurred by the fraudulent party.

“It’s like someone coming to me pretending to be Michael West, me lending them a stack of money, and then holding you responsible!”

Can’t argue with that

UBER accounting

From identity thieves to tax thieves. Typical of the shoddy standards of financial reporting (at least outside the top ASX companies who mostly obey the law), Uber Australia Pty Ltd and its auditors PwC have not troubled the ASIC database with last year’s financial statements.

They did manage to get their 2013 accounts in though, a year late, and full of holes. As Uber is tackling the taxi industry it is worth noting that this thing – like Google and eBay – appears set up to not book its Australian revenues in Australia.

It showed revenues of $804,000 but cash receipts were zero. Que? Trade and other receivables were $900,000 – loans to related party Uber BV. A loan to another Uber entity in the Netherlands doesn’t sound like a trade receivable. The accounts don’t even reveal the ultimate shareholder.

Two points: this is the database which the government intends to sell in a billion-dollar privatisation. As for Uber, competition is a good thing in the taxi industry, like any other industry, but competition should entail a level playing field – like booking your Australian sales in Australia and paying tax.