Hong Kong authorities on alert as ATM withdrawals surge

People use ATM machines at a bank in Hong Kong, China January 29, 2018.

Cash withdrawals at Hong Kong ATMs have surged, prompting scrutiny from monetary authorities, the banking industry and police amid media reports that mainland Chinese are withdrawing hundreds of thousands of dollars using up to 50 cards at a time.

For years, China has battled to curb capital outflows, deploying a series of measures to contain them. A move that took effect Jan. 1 caps overseas withdrawals using domestic Chinese bank cards.

The gambling hub of Macau last year introduced facial recognition technology at ATMs to target illicit outflows from mainland China, a move that Hong Kong’s central bank told Reuters could increase cash withdrawals in the financial centre.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) declined to provide data on cash withdrawals at ATMs over the past three months but said monthly cash withdrawals using mainland bank cards ranged between HK$2 billion ($255.7 million )and HK$6 billion in 2017.

The HKMA would not comment on media reports saying up to HK$20 billion was being withdrawn from the city’s ATMs each month.

“The HKMA is aware of media reports about people using multiple mainland cards to withdraw cash at ATMs in Hong Kong,” the central bank said in a statement, adding that it is “monitoring the situation and is in discussion with the banking industry and the police about this issue”.