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Banking & Finance

Calling all Hong Kong ATM cash withdrawals ‘suspicious’ does not present true picture

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 3:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 February, 2018, 10:25pm

I refer to your editorial piece, “City has to bank on better ATM security” (February 3), and would like to set the record straight.

The article quoted “a surge estimated at HK$20 billion a month in suspicious ATM withdrawals in Hong Kong”. We believe the number “HK$20 billion” – not attributed to any sources – originated from a related article titled “HK$20 billion-a-month surge in suspicious ATM withdrawals hits Hong Kong banks after Macau rolls out facial recognition”, published on January 26.

We did not have the inquired withdrawal numbers readily available when first approached by your paper on January 24. Once we had verified the numbers, we immediately notified your reporter on January 26 that the amount of monthly ATM cash withdrawals using mainland cards in 2017 ranged from HK$2 billion to ­HK$6 billion.

Our deputy chief executive Arthur Yuen also publicly clarified the figures in question at a press conference attended by the Post on February 1.

To our disappointment, our official numbers, while widely reported by other media, never got published by the Post. Three follow-up articles by the Post, dated January 26 (“Money laundering and the fuss over ATM withdrawals in Hong Kong”), January 30 (“Hong Kong lender banking on finger veins being better than faces for ATM security”) and February 3 (“City has to bank on better ATM security”), did not carry the numbers we provided, all quoting instead the much inflated, unconfirmed “HK$20 billion”. As such, we are must inform your readers of the true picture.

Hong Kong is a tourism hub with over 50 millions visitors every year in the past five years, with more than 75 per cent coming from the mainland. The amount of cash withdrawn via ATMs in Hong Kong varies from month to month, depending on the number of arriving tourists, the amount of cash used in shopping or other legitimate purposes, and seasonality. In fact, we told your reporter in our first reply that it is inappropriate to presume that all such withdrawals involve some criminal or money-laundering elements. This important observation got flatly ignored in all your reports.

Instead, all cash withdrawals, on an inflated basis, were described as “suspicious”. This does not seem to present a true and fair story.

Rhonda Lam, communications chief, Hong Kong Monetary Authority