Can a Bank Teller Legally Ask Me Why I Want to Withdraw My Money?

Hi All

Had an odd experience yesterday and thought to ask what others might think.

So I went to the bank to withdraw $5,000. I figured out max I can do on ATM is $1-2k across the 2 banks I am with.

So I went into my nearest open branch in a rush during my lunch break. Did the usual social distancing and waiting in line etc until I got to the teller (current Vic conditions branches are either closed or short hours and no weekends). Then they insist on getting an answer as to why I want my money out.

The exchange went a bit like this:

Me: Hi, I'd like to withdraw $5,000
Teller: What do you need the cash for?
Me: (stunned by the question, so I ignored it) I want to withdraw cash
Teller: Yeah what do you need it for
Teller: Some people are being scammed and there are different ways scammers are trying to get money.
Me: Okay I'm not being scammed. I just want cash.
Teller: Okay but what do you need it for?
Me: I am paying for something, I am not being scammed.
Teller: Okay I'm just trying to protect you and your money. (Like that makes it okay??)
proceeds to withdraw cash from my account

Now I've not been in a branch in maybe 4-5 years. I do all my banking online these days and have met with a bank broker over the years (which I'd say doesnt count). Is this normal to be interrogated why I want to withdraw MY money and to be asked what I'm doing with it?

Is there not some privacy law against this?

In my view teller could have led with I have to ask you if you think you might be scammed or something similar at the start. And if I confirm no, what is it their business to press the question further for detail?

The bank is an instrument where I store my money. Should that not be as far as it needs to go? They suspect something they can file it with the ATO or whoever else manages suspicions of fraud etc.

Didn't feel right. This was Commonwealth Bank btw.

EDIT: Thanks all for your comments. So this looks like a common occurrence now, and has legal backing under duty of care. All I wanted to confirm really. Cheers.

closed Comments

  • +100

    Yes, they can ask and generally do so to try to minimise fraud. You don't have to answer though.

    • +66

      This, a 5000 cash withdrawal is not normal , most transactions for that amount are electronic. They don't really care what you do with it , they just want to know it sounds right and not like a scam.

      A scam victim would not be aware of being a scam victim so asking are you being scammed is not very productive.

      • +27

        Frankly, it's none of their business if I need it to buy iTunes gift cards to avoid a prison sentence brought by the ATO!!

        • +3

          Frankly whats your issue, as Hybroid says

          You don't have to answer though.

          By asking they may just help someone who is being scammed and doesnt realise it.

          • +4

            @RockyRaccoon: Yes, I’m sure OP would be really impressed if a scammer walked into his bank and managed to withdraw $5000 from his account. Love to read his post on OzBargain about the negligence of the bank in not taking extra precautions in this era of rampant scamming.

            • @Ozpit: A problem with modern times is.

              People can’t think or sense for themselves.

              A classic example, coffee lids, ”Caution, contents may be hot”. This is a new level for the modern humans…

            • @Ozpit: The teller is not asking to protect the account holder in case of someone pretending to be them, they are asking because they assume that you are going to walk outside and give it to a nigerian prince. in reality they banks don't give a crap if you do something stupid with it, they are only trying to limit THEIR liability. sometimes the bank is left with the debt, especially if the account holder has no money left.

        • +1

          I got scammed, and the teller's question "what do I need the money" should have raised alarm bells. But I have a friend that needs money to pay for legal fees for a BMW that does not return high yields.

        • +1

          Well it sort of is, because when the scam is finally identified they often have to do the run around and try and recoup the funds, by their own cost. So stopping a scam before it happens is good for everyone.

          It feels like an invasion of privacy but it occurs in a lot of different ways.

          We went through a royal commission in to banking, lending etc. everyone was up in arms about why banks were over lending and not doing proper checks on people’s expenses. Next minute more of them start doing expense checks properly and people felt like it was an invasion of privacy… shrugs

        • Frankly it is their business because they are legally bound to prevent money laundering by ASIC and large cash withdrawals are often indicative of of this.

      • +6

        The bank almost certainly has a legal responsibility to ask. If they didn't ask and the OP sent $5000 to his Russian lover, over and over again, before finding out her name is Boris and he lives in a basement in Kiev, the OP might ask for restitution. Guess who the OP will be angry at? The bank.

        • All I want to know is, how do you know the Op's story in such detail?

      • not normal? maybe on nickle and dime planet.

    • +1

      Asking this question could also be a sales trigger/prompt so they can offer you another banking product. "So what are you using this money for?" "Well, it is actually to purchase a car." "Well, just so you know, we do also offer car insurance, do you want us to obtain a quote for you or get someone from our insurance area to get in touch with you?"

  • +69

    Teller could be genuinely wanting to ensure, you don't buy a $5000 gift card (cash on collect) via Gumtree…

    • +1

      I had a similar thing buying $2000 of apple gift cards at Woolworths a few days ago. The customer service people must have been asked to help reduce fraud and scams. I suspect people who get scammed may be fairly helpless so they may have to ask to try and stop the scam being completed. I think OP should just try to calm down and remember they are just doing their job and trying to help those who may be being scammed. It’s not to stop normal transactions. I admit it took me by surprise and I wondered why they were asking what the gift cards were for. I initially felt a bit confused and annoyed but when they explained it then it was fine.

      • Now I'm curious, $2000.00 on Apple gift cards sounds a lot, so what were they for?

        • Probably a new laptop since you can buy hardware with them now.

        • They can process the giftcards in another country.

        • I seem to recall someone way back bought a lot of apple giftcards via a supermarket as christmas gifts for employees.

  • +18

    If you're silly enough to fall for a 'pay for a scam via cash' thing, then you're likely also not particularly concerned about telling your banker what you're doing with the cash.

    Therefore, a teller asking what it is for will also catch a significant percentage of scammed customers, and they've got a way to prevent it. It's not a legal requirement, but that doesn't mean it's not a bad question.

    You have to sign something when dealing with $10k or more of cash in a day (anti money-laundering paperwork) but that's the only legal requirement I know of in terms of cash handling.

    • You're be shocked by the amount of bank staff that picks up Scam. ask basic question family friend is bank manager she amounts who thing they pay a bill or wannant out for them.

    • You don't have to sign anything, but it will automatically report to AML. If you are withdrawing a very large sum that needs cash to be ordered then they will likely ask you what the purpose is.

      Noting there has been recent legal changes to "max" cash payments allowed for business transactions.

  • +9

    I was asked at woollies if I was paying the ATO when I bought my apple gift cards the other day

    • +44

      I think that's nice of them to ask; they didn't have to, and might be saving people a lot of money and embarrassment.

    • +5

      The staff at coles/woolworths are required to ask customers these questions for high $$ amount gift cards, especially when someone is buying them at crazzy limits like hoarding on them.

  • +26

    I think it's a good thing because there are a lot of elderly people that fall for the phone scams. My mum nearly got caught out until they asked her to go withdraw money then it clicked and she hung up. It would also probably deter someone who's say stolen a card and is trying to clear the account, as they would probably get jumpy wondering why they are being questioned.

    Your teller definitely could have worded it less abruptly though lol.

  • +68

    Ex-Commbank employee here

    It's standard practice to ask customers, a reason for withdrawing large sums of cash. It's a duty of care to try protect you from fraud/scammers, I highly doubt the teller you saw is interested in what you spend your money on, the information isn't entered anywhere.

    I'll tell you a story. Old man gets a phone call from Amazon saying they've accidentally transferred him $20,000. They instruct him to head down the bank and withdraw the funds to deposit into another account. Day dreaming teller doesn't ask the man a reason for withdrawing the funds and hands him the money. Old man is now crying over the phone because he's given away $20,000 to some scammers.

    Had the teller asked, which situation would you prefer?

    • +2

      Had the teller asked, which situation would you prefer?

      “Hindsight is a wonderful thing but foresight is better, especially when it comes to saving life, or some pain/money!”

    • +18

      I actually think it's a really good policy. Plenty of old or gullible people could be ruined by one mistake.

    • It's standard practice to ask customers, a reason for withdrawing large sums of cash.

      Do they ask everyone or only people that are old and/or look particularly gullible?

      • +1

        They don't ask people who have a history of withdrawing massive cash amounts, or those whom they know.

      • +1

        Over the last 15 years they asked me when I withdrew money to purchase a car, when doing a bank transfer for a home deposit and several bank cheques I've had done. I'm not what they call old…Maybe I look gullible?

      • With a Fugitive name like Kimble, they probably check with the FBI even for $500 (John yea,- more likely its "Richard")

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Fugitive_(1963_TV_series)

        • Wrong Kimble. You going to ask this guy what he wants the money for?

    • -9

      There is no such duty.

      • +9

        Wrong.. as someone pointed out below..

        In the Banking Code of Practice

        Banks will take extra care when providing banking services to customers who are experiencing vulnerability.

      • Great, If no duty then how about bank gives you money only to give me all of your money?

        I personally think OP has gone too far on this, Policy is there to protect banking customer's money.

        Because what's that big of a deal if a teller is asking customer why did they want to withdraw money, its not like they want to personally spy on you, or something. Many supermarket checkout people ask how has your day been? You having a party tonight? any plans for the week etc.

        There's not much difference Teller is just trying to help you out as a customer. May be you were withdrawing money for something that they could do online much faster now?? Who knows?.

        But even they ask something like that, cant you just make up something if you don't want them to know something, i.e. could say something like I need to transfer money to my other bank account quickly, or something just got a bills to pay.

    • +2

      This happened to me. I just kept the money and told Jeff to sue me if he wants it back.

    • +2

      good policy by CBA

      of course you will have "muh rights, muh freedoms, dont tread on me" (profanity) who want to argue the toss

      Happened to me once as well took out cash for a concreting job, asked what it was for. didnt think anything of it tbh. amount was 6k

    • -2

      I always assumed it was a question to see HOW you respond rather than what you say in response

      I.e if you are relaxed, no concern, if you seemed sketchy it might alert the teller that something is up. Either you are not who you say you are (committing fraud) or being scammed.

    • +1

      It's a duty of care to try protect you from fraud/scammers,

      But quite seriously, looking at your story here - what would a teller do having serious suspicion that you're being scammed? Refuse withdrawal? Call his manager?

      • +1

        If it is one of the more obvious scams I would hope they ask you into a room with a manager to have it explained to you. If you still want to pay a scammer after that then that's your right.

          1. if you can find the manager.
          2. if he is not in a meeting, or on a call, or out to lunch, or working at another branch today, or off sick.
    • so how far down the rabbit hole does the one teller in the branch go with them? I cant even open a savings account or ask a simple question without making an appointment or count out change. and don't say you would pass them on to the manager, because he is usually busy on not in today. (assuming that what they are telling you is an accurate account of what happened)

  • +24

    I have an old mate that almost got scammed but luckily the woman at Woolies asked him why he wanted to buy all those gift cards and then told him he was being scammed.

    So maybe it was something like that . IMO that would be the only legitimate reason they would have for asking.

  • +14

    If I was asked by a teller why I required a large amount of cash I wouldn't get paranoid about it and unless it was for something illegal I would have no qualms telling them.

    • Agree.

    • The scammer Whomever requested the money from OP, obviously the reverse psychology worked.

      Just waiting for the next post from OP…

    • Exactly this, most of the time it could just be for a purchase of a car or need to pay a tradie.

      You can tell them it's a gift for your parents, they really dont care, it's just to weed out someone who may be vunerable to financial loss.

  • +16

    Didn't feel right. This was Commonwealth Bank btw.

    Thanks for the PSA - I would take my banking to them now.

    • Yeah, they are a great bank. Have a great app too, maybe even the best across the big 4.

  • +11

    did you tell them it was to help a nigerian prince move his money to australia?

    • +2

      That could be FareEvader's "friend"….

    • Did the Nigerian prince also warn you if the bank teller questions your transaction on how to respond?

  • +8

    Just echoing one of the earlier comments.

    Off the back of the numerous royal commissions, government regulations, etc there's now the Banking Code of Practice

    • Banks will take extra care when providing banking services to customers who are experiencing vulnerability.

    Broadly, this means they're obliged to inquire. Some of it is very carefully scripted, others would just be along the lines of the OP experience.

    You'd be surprised at some the nasty stuff that goes on in our society… what may have come across as overly demanding actually prevents a surprising amount of financial (spousal, parental, etc) abuse.

    Sad, but true.

  • +1

    I have to ask you if you think you might be scammed

    you probably wouldnt be aware if you were being scammed.

  • +6

    "Don't worry, I'm not getting ripped off. I've seen the merchandise - these are top quality drugs I'm buying."

  • 100%

  • +10

    Tell them you're a gamer and need to buy a new GPU.

    • +1

      Me on ozbargain looking for a new GPU deal: laughs …. cries

  • +2

    Commonwealth Bank (ASX:CBA) faces 30 criminal charges
    Tony Yoo | September 16, 2021 2:49pm

    The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (ASX: CBA) will be brought before the Federal Court to face criminal charges of misleading customers.

    The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) revealed Thursday that 30 charges have been filed against the big bank after an investigation.

    The maximum penalty per offence is $1.7 million.
    https://www.fool.com.au/2021/09/16/commonwealth-bank-asxcba-...

    • Also was the child pedo ring in Philippines funded by comm bank accounts a few years ago, wiring large amounts of poor families to exploit there kids.

  • They suspect something they can file it with the ATO or whoever else manages suspicions of fraud etc.

    This isn't done manually, its purely automatic.

  • +3

    Tell them it's not a scam, you're buying high quality drugs.

    • +13

      Or they take it as this guy is a complete expletive

        • +17

          Realising that the poor teller isn't the one making up the rule they need to follow would be the smart thing.

          • +3

            @deme: "minimum wage bank teller".

            This guy knows how to American.

  • +17

    You sound like an absolute pain to deal with on any level

  • +4

    This is the ozbargain forums and I support the op’s right to be outraged at someone trying to just do their job.

    • Sold out of pitch forks?