Bank robbers and bank robbers

Three Romanians were recently jailed for four years for what a Garda called “a sophisticated and nasty fraud”. The gang had conspired to rob bank customers by skimming ATM cards and stealing the customer’s money.

The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation became involved in the case after several banks complained. Eventually, the thieves were arrested and brought to court where they were found guilty and appropriate justice was dispensed.

There is nothing unusual about this case. A group of people got together and devised a system that enabled them to rob bank customers of their hard earned money. When they were caught, the State took strong and immediate action. Any self respecting country would be seen as deficient if it failed to take such action against bank robbers.

Yet, Ireland is such a country. Groups of people in Allied Irish Banks and National Irish Bank got together and devised a system that enabled them to rob, not just their own customers, but the State as well.

These fraudsters robbed millions over many years and when they were caught, the State took no action against them. They were merely asked to pay back the money robbed. The Financial Regulator refers to this well planned fraud, operated over many years as “improper charging of interest and fees” (Annual Report, page 36).

Many Irish citizens are under the impression that such crimes could not happen today because the Financial Regulator is there to protect the interests of consumers.

Wrong, the Financial Regulator has one overriding mission – to protect the financial institutions, usually at the expense of ordinary consumers.

Let me give you an example. Recently, I asked the Regulator for a list of all financial institutions that were guilty of robbing or ‘overcharging’ consumers in the last two years. This is a perfectly reasonable request and critical for those assessing the credentials of a financial institution before deciding to open an account.

They ignored my email. When I insisted, they referred my query to their Press Office who referred me to page 35/36 of their Annual Report where I found brief mention of fraudulent cases already in the public realm.

In other words, the information I requested is treated as a State secret. This policy of secrecy coupled with the absolute refusal of the so called regulator to punish wrong doing in the financial sector creates an environment of great benefit for the financial institutions and puts consumers at a serious disadvantage.