I had given up on getting through to ICBC. When I was still living in Korea, I had tried handling the matter at an ICBC branch in Seoul. For newer readers, the matter I’m referring to is my having withdrawn 300 yuan, at the time about $45, from an ICBC ATM in Beijing. This money, as I’d find out the next day, turned out to be counterfeit.
Given that the ICBC website wasn’t very informative, I decided to go up to Seoul one weekend to see if there was anything that could be done. While the bank branch itself was apparently closed on Saturdays (couldn’t find that online, d’oh), I got a very nice Korean man to help me call an off-hours information line that the bank had. I told him my story and he spoke to the representative on my behalf in Korean. I was then told that the Korean branch could not be held responsible for something that had happened in China and would not be able to assist me with fixing the problem.
Once I came back to America, I found out there was an ICBC branch in New York. I kind of gave up on the idea of calling them before even trying, thinking I’d be told the same thing that I was back in Korea. Surely if South Korea couldn’t be bothered, and they’re WAY closer to China than America is, America would feel the same. Months went by and I was telling the infamous story of my trip to China to a relative. My dad, overhearing me, said if he were me, he’d try harder to get this resolved. So I made one last effort.
I originally wanted to email the bank, so I went to the ICBC homepage and clicked on the English translation. Then I scrolled down and clicked “Contact Us” at the bottom of the page. What awaited me there were a few Chinese phone numbers/extensions that I could call or had the option of texting. Underneath this was a link that said “Customer Complaint: Please click here”. So I did. It brought me back to the homepage in Mandarin. Grrrr…
Then I decided to look up the phone number for the New York office. Success, I found it! So I called. After a short holding time, I got a representative. Relieved, I told her a shortened version of my story in case she just turned out to be an operator about to redirect me to another department. She asked me if I had a corporate account. I replied in the negative, saying this was more of a personal banking matter. She told me that their ICBC branch only dealt with corporate accounts but that she could give me a number for personal banking. “Ok, cool,” I thought, “at least she knows where to send me to resolve this.”
I called the 877 number that she’d given me and got a Chinese woman whose English was not great. So I spoke slowly and tried to tell my story as simply as I could. The resulting conversation went something like this.
Representative: You counterfeit money in Canada?
Me: (a bit louder thinking she misheard me) No, China. Beijing ATM. Forbidden City.
Rep: Yes yes. You go Beijing. Counterfeit money in Canada?
Me: No. I got the counterfeit money in China.
Me: China! I never went to Canada!
Rep: Oh. Why you call here? Cannot help with China. This Canada!
So the New York branch had transferred me to a Canadian branch, which was apparently saying the same thing as the Korean one: We can’t help you. The Canadian representative, however, did transfer my call to the branch in Beijing and told me which buttons to press through the phone menu that would come up. I thanked her immensely, thinking it would only be a short while before I could get some closure to my story.
I selected the correct numbers and was redirected to a rep who could speak English. I told my story a third time. The man on the other end, whose accented English was quite good compared to the Canadian rep’s, solemnly told me that since I was no longer in China, the matter could not be handled since no one could prove that the money was counterfeit. I offered to take it to an ICBC branch to confirm that it was indeed counterfeit. I offered photos. At one point, I even offered to MAIL it to China. He held true to his position: This matter could not be fixed since I was not presently in China. Frustrated, I said “So let me get this straight. I would have to buy a plane ticket and pay another $180 for a visa just to come to China to resolve this?” Apparently, my sarcasm got lost in translation; he thought I was serious. He told me that, even if I did come to China, there was no proof that the money had come from their bank. I told them about the record on my BOA statement that it was their bank, the only transaction I had done that day. The next day, that money was the only money in my wallet. I only ever went to two banks during my stay in China: China Construction Bank (a member of the Global ATM Alliance with BOA and charged minimal 1% fees for ATM withdrawals) and ICBC (the one time I could not find a China Construction Bank). I told him that I still had the counterfeit money as proof. I had my bank statement for a record of the time and place that this occurred. I had witnesses. It did not matter. He said I could be faking. I told him that if I was faking, I’d be trying to get more out of it than $45. He said that ICBC had never had an incident like this before. Trying a different approach, I said that I was sure that ICBC was a well respected bank, that it was nothing personal, but all I had to go on was my one transaction with them, which resulted in giving me counterfeit money. He repeated himself, saying that ICBC had never given counterfeit money before. Exasperated, I asked him how he knew that for sure when cases like mine were swept under the rug and ignored. He repeated himself and I told him that while I had no issue with him personally, his bank had no honor. He repeated himself yet again. When I did not respond, he asked if there was anything else he could do for me today. I held back a laugh, said no and hung up.
Moral of the story: While ICBC undoubtedly has legitimate transactions (otherwise how could it stay open?), I can again only comment on my one dealing with them, which gave me counterfeit money from an ATM. Additionally, they did not own up to this, nor handle this in a manner of trying to help me. Instead, I was treated like a criminal out to make a quick buck by conning a wonderful and honest bank. I cannot guarantee that other tourists will have the same problem with them. However, I would give the same advice with regards to any dealings with this bank as one would receive at the entrance of Dante’s version of hell: “All hope abandon ye who enter here.”