Friday, June 29, 2007

Credit card or Fraud card ?

I just happened to go through this article on Rediff. http://www.rediff.com/money/2007/jun/09icici.htm
Read the comments section for incidents of fraud by banks.

I also happened to read this post by Sandeep earlier - http://www.sandeepweb.com/2007/03/04/banks-as-loan-sharks/ and hence I was expecting some "nice" comments about some unethical practices followed by some banks in India on the Rediff article.

As far as my personal experience goes, ICICI does indulge in unfair practices.

1. I once wanted to close an old savings account. They charged me Rs 100 for closing a saving account !! And the pretty woman (surely, not much educated) did not even ask me if I want to go ahead. Yeah yeah, I should have read the rules and regulations, but Rs 100 for closing an account (its my money) is - cheating.

2. They increase or decrease loan EMI amounts or period without consulting me first. Leave alone that, they will not even bother to inform you, or they inform you after 3 or 4 months, or when you call them up and ask them why is your bank statement showing higher EMI amount. And they have the highest rates of interest for any kind of loan. They quote a very low rate of interest when selling any loan, but they will hike the rates like anything after you are hooked, even though any other bank in the market isnt increasing interest rates by that amount. If they have my email id, they should atleast be emailing me regarding the same. Ohh sure.. they will mail you about their new *exciting* offers though. And worse, call you again and again every alternate day regarding some home loan or "free" credit card.

Now, so many friends, relatives and acquaintances have gone through bad experiences with ICICI, that I might miss out some.

An uncle of mine, who belongs to the old world State Bank generation, was getting numerous calls regarding personal loans. He was told that the EMIs will start only when the amount is withdrawn from the bank. My uncle (not the one to reply back rudely), to stop the calls, said - "ok, give it. I am not going to use it anyway". The EMIs started even though he did not use the cheque (which he returned later along with a fine!).

Another friend, was a customer of two wheeler loans. He had given post-dated cheques for the same. He shifted jobs. He took back the remaining older cheques and gave new ones issued by another bank. The bank tried to withdraw the amount from the old account (which did not have much money). They then sent a notice via some lawyer, and threatened a legal case. They also sent some "recovery agents" but he wasnt at his rented flat at that time. My friend visited the branch (with me). The manager was rude and behaved like the bank has done a great generous deed by giving my friend the loan. Once my friend said (in proper Punjabi-Delhi accented Hindi) - "Oye, ek baat sun. Abhi tere muh par paise maar sakta hoon. Chal, close kar de loan" , the manager came back to reality and started addressing him as "Sir" :-)  Nice... *evil*

Now comes the funniest part - Once I showed interest in ICICI bank credit card. The marketing guy said he will come with the form etc the next day. He never came. After a few days, I again get a call from the bank. I said I had shown interest, but your people never came to me. She said she will send them again this time, and again he never came. Strange.. Not just ICICI, the same has happened to me regarding SBI and Barclays. SBI called me up thrice, I was interested and they never followed up. Barclays called me up once, I showed interest and they never contacted me back. Funny.... Are they trying to get back at people - nobody is interested whenever we call, so we will not get back to people who show interest.

I have an account with HDFC too, and they are somewhat better. They havent cheated me or have been grossly unfair till now, as such. They once charged me Rs 200 for a 3 monthly statement (I had lost one) - printed right there on plain dotmatrix printer paper, without any bank logo !! Not good. Also, they once sent me a bill on my credit card which I had never once swiped. But I must say - just one phone call, and they reversed the charges. No goons, no questions asked. I havent used that card till date.

You may visit many review sites and find out more about the unfair practices of many banks, not just what I have mentioned. From what I have found on the net, personal experiences and anecdotes, ICICI and Citibank have the worst market image and credentials. In fact, I find it is better to deal with state-owned banks rather than such goons who behave like moneylenders or jamindars in villages. The typical image of a munshi fleecing farmers in Hindi movies, comes to my mind :-)

The problems with some banks include
- goons (or recovery agents, to use some euphemism)
- deliberate delayed communication and billing
- hidden charges (there are way too many of them)
- unethical charges (like fees they charge to close an account)
- ill-informed, rude and under-educated employees
- spamming on email and worse, telephone spam
- complicated phone customer care menus, and long waiting times
- response to complaints via email is very rare
- false advertizing
- false promises and claims by the bank marketing staff (is this what they teach in MBA-Marketing? ) or their agents
- the banks now even call up on some pretext, extract the required info and then start selling whatever. Wastage of time plus nuisance.

I wonder if one has to be a CA to figure out their schemes and machinations. Better not use a credit card, I neither have the time, nor the inclination to go through their paperwork, billing, figuring out the fine print, and a few taxes and charges thrown in, etc.

Also, go through this wonderful article in The Week(dated June 17, 2007), regarding how banks cheat customers on credit cards. I have pasted some quotes from that article here.

http://week.manoramaonline.com/cgi-bin/MMOnline.dll/portal/ep/theWeekContent.do?contentType=EDITORIAL§ionName=COVER%20STORY&programId=1073755753&BV_ID=@@@&contentId=2533928


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Delhi State Consumer Commission president Justice J.D. Kapoor, who has been spearheading the cause of consumers, felt that people were falling prey to machinations of banks. "They [banks] first rush to issue credit cards and then start harassing the consumers by sending inflated bills irrespective of whether the consumer has transacted business through the cards," said Kapoor. Banks, he felt, continue to increase the recoverable amount even though they receive the dispute declaration form, and repeated telephone calls by distressed customers. "There cannot be a worse unfair trade practice than this," he said.
On May 22, The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission issued notices to HSBC and Citibank for fraudulent customer practices. It all started when MRTPC kick-started an investigation based on certain press reports in 2005, accusing banks and their agents of violation of norms. The director general of investigation and registration was directed to investigate the matter and it wrote to several banks asking for information on their credit card businesses. In August 2006, the DGIR asked the banks to furnish additional information.

According to the DGIR, Citibank and HSBC violated the Reserve Bank of India's rules on timely dispatch of bills. Both banks were allegedly delaying delivery of bills and realisation of cheques for payment in order to charge increased interest rate, late fee and fines. The DGIR also found that the two banks had been conducting credit card business in the country through independent direct sales agents or those working on commissions. The DSAs allegedly solicited business from the public by conveying the impression that they were the agents of the bank, without disclosing their independent status, leading customers to believe that the promises made by them were those made by an officer of the bank.

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But consumer bodies like Consumer Online, led by executive director Bejon Mishra, are in no mood to relent. Mishra said 23 per cent of the complaints he received were related to banking. The Delhi State Consumer Commission confirms that it has received many complaints from consumers in spite of administering warnings and reprimands to banks.

"It has become a relentless tale of scenes at the residence of the consumers for the recovery of the amounts against loans or credit card. They face abusive language, mental trauma, emotional suffering, agony, harassment and tension," said Justice Kapoor. "The recovery agents chase consumers, waylay them, get hold of their vehicles, beat and bruise them and sometimes create circumstances to drive them to suicide."

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Banking officials argue that it has become difficult to recover loans through legal means as there are millions of defaulters who simply ignore notices issued to them. The truth, say consumer courts, is that the collection agents get commission on the loan recovered, so they are eager to use rough and ready methods.

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The malady has become so widespread that the Supreme Court came down heavily on private banks for deploying thugs to recover loans. Banks have been told to deal with defaulters as per the procedure laid down by law and the guidelines of the RBI. The apex court has held that banks have a right to recover the dues, but not by force.
"There is great resentment over hidden charges," said S.K. Sharma, Supreme Court lawyer and consumer rights activist. "Such charges are billed without the knowledge of the consumer and without advance notice. When consumers are unable to pay total outstanding dues all at once, banks offer a facility of paying by instalment, but when the option is exercised, banks resort to billing for various services without prior information to the consumer. Another practice is the offer of lifetime free card, and later charging costs after the card has been purchased."


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Communications consultant Rahul Bage never got his monthly statements on time. He made complaints to his bank, urging them to send them on time. "These late payment charges run to a few hundreds, but if you multiply the hundreds with the number of customers who have been charged, the amount is huge. It took me eight months to get redress. Finally, I got a waiver of Rs 17,000 that had accumulated as late payment penalty," Rahul said. "How can statements be delayed almost every month? There is something fishy in this; it is a white-collar crime."

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Anand Patwardhan, a lawyer who specialises in consumer protection cases, said that a credit card user could seek legal help when harassed. "A customer can seek legal help for unfair trade practices and deficiency of service. A wrong entry could get debited to your credit card statement. If the matter is not solved amicably, between the bank and the customer, then the latter can seek legal help for deficiency of service," he said.
Patwardhan has also found that insurance offers with the credit card are not always foolproof. "If a credit card user is insured against accidental death, and if the last payment has not been made, the kin of the deceased have to keep making rounds of the bank and the insurance company. Banks are hand-in-glove with insurance companies and there is no transparency in dealings," he said.



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