Credit Card Fraud and an Unusual New Year Gift

Accidentally I called the customer care of my new credit card issuer (Citi Bank) to know the amount that I had to pay, even though the due date was some 20 days ahead. I usually keep a track of all my transactions through Internet banking, but was unable to do this time as the card was new; I was waiting for the Internet transaction facilities. After going through the usual process of verification with the customer care, when I asked the executive about the outstanding amount, I was shocked to hear her answer. I could not believe what she was telling me. I asked her again and requested her to verify the amount. But, alas, the figure did not change. It was Rs 96, 541/-. I could not believe what I was listening to and cut the call. Sat for some time near the telephone booth and thought of asking the agent again. Dialled the customer care once again and asked the new executive the same question, “could you please give me the outstanding amount of my card?” Same answer…

After getting the same answer for the third time from a different customer care executive, I asked her to give me the details of the transactions. To add salt to my wound, the customer care lady gave me the details; the latest was Rs 77,135/- and the the rest were some Rs 12,206/- . To my further queries, she told me that the latest transaction was made in Euros and looks like some one purchased an Apple iMac using my credit card on-line! The transaction was made some 3 days back. She did not give me any more details on that transaction. When I told her about my credit limit and argued with her how come the bank allowed that transaction to succeed?, she told me that, since the transaction had crossed my credit limit, which was set to Rs 25,000/-, bank had charged some Rs 7,200/- as extra charge. It was like a bomb shell! The worst part was that she asked me to pay the entire amount immediately, otherwise the bank will charge heavy interest on the transactions.

Politely with a heavy voice, I told her “I do not have any idea about the Apple iMac transaction, I have done transaction only for Rs 12,206/- , out of which some through direct purchase using my card and some using on-line transaction for some fee payment for a friend of mine“. I told her that, “listen, the card is with me and I’m responsible for the transaction of Rs 12,206/- only, the other transaction is a fraud one and I’ll not pay a single pie for that“. Further, I asked her a basic question, that “how come the bank did not inform me when my credit limit crossed and when passed the transaction”?. I told her, look, even the bank did not send me an SMS for the huge transaction, which is a normal procedure with other banks. I argued that, if the bank charges extra money for crossing the limit, then the bank should also inform the customer while crossing the limit. That did not happen in my case. Bank simply did not act on it. Before cutting the call, I asked her to stop further transaction on my card with immediate effect.

After talking to the customer care, I called my friend, for whom I did on-line transactions to know his idea and knowledge, if any, on the huge amount. He was shocked, beyond my expectations. The worst part was his parents came to know from our conversations about this. They became very serious and asked me in detail about it. I told them that these kind of fraud transactions happen in real life, neither their son nor me are responsible. Though they some how believed my assurance, yet they had sleep less nights.

All these things happened in a span of 2 hours in the late afternoon of 29th Dec, 2005. In the evening, I called again the customer care and asked her about the methodologies for a complain. She took some 10 minutes to give me the detail and asked me to send a fax on some number stating disputed transaction. I did the same within no time and kept the fax detail for my reference. Came back to my room, wrote a letter to the bank with the details of my transactions and the disputed transaction. Could not sleep properly, searched the Internet on how to deal with such kind of cases for hours, wrote couple of mails to people for their help and suggestion. Tried all my resources that night, but no success.

Next morning, I went to the post office, sent the letter along with the copy of the fax which I had sent in the previous night through registered (ad) post. In the mean time, I got 2/3 calls from various people of the bank asking me to pay the amount immediately. I told them firmly, that, I had already disputed the transaction and will not pay a single amount other than my own transaction“. In the evening, I went to the ATM center of Citi Bank at Hiranandani Gardens with my friend and dropped a cheque for the payment of my transactions. Called the customer care again in the late evening to get the status.; was feeling restless and nervous.

On 31st Dec, 2005 I called the bank two times to know the status of my complain. Got the stereotypic answer, “it is under investigation, will get back to you soon“. I too got couple of calls from the bank and some recovery agents to pay the amount. In the night the world was celebrating the new year other than me (and my friend of course). In the morning, I met my guide in lab and wished him new year wishes. After a brief chat, he asked me whether everything is ok or not. I could not control my self and told him about the incident. He was shocked. Immediately he asked me to go to the police station and to file an FIR. What he told from some of his recent experiences was shocking. Looks like some other bank had even sent recovery agents (gundas) to collect the fraud transaction amount some time back from one of our faculty members. After thinking a bit he asked me to write/talk to an IPS officer, who happens to be a PhD student of my batch in IIT Bombay. He knew his name, though did not have the details of the gentle man. Immediately I sat down and searched in the Internet. I was lucky, got his email id and his home page.

With hope I wrote a mail to him explaining my case. In that mail, I requested him either to call me back or to give me his number, such that I can speak and explain my case. I did not know, that I was the luckiest at that moment. Within no time, I got a call from some unknown number. I was bit reluctant to pick up the phone as I was getting calls from various people on payment. But, this time the call was from the IPS officer. He asked me to explain my case in detail over phone and to email him my complaint letter and other details such that he can take up that case personally. He assured me and asked me to relax. On the back drop, he instructed me to file a complain with the local police station. Immediately, I sent him all my details and the scan copy of my complaint, which he forwarded to the Mumbai Head of Citi Bank with a personal note. He called me again and updated me about the case and gave his mobile number, to talk to him in-case I face any problem further. He repeated again to file the complaint with police.

At about 2.15 pm, I along with my friend went to the local police station (Powai) to file the complain. That was the first police station visit of my life. It was a big mess, no one was there to listen to us. They simply denied to accept any complaint. Initially we thought that there might be a communication gap. We tried to explain then, but in return, we were sent from one table to other for more than one hour. They even were not ready to listen that some senior police officer of IG rank had instructed us to file the complain. Arre woh.. bade log hai.. unko kucch pata nahini hota hai, was their answer. Then they called some one over phone and discussed and asked us to go to Andheri to file our complaint as it is an on-line transaction problem.

Then, some one among them told us since the bank’s head office is at Chennai, we should file our complaint in Chennai. Simple harassment! We were frustrated, called up our rescuer again. We updated him about our position, and asked him about our next step. He advised us to go and talk to the police men again and to ask them to take our complain. This time he told us to divulge his name to the local police. But, nothing happened. All our requests and explanations were in vein. We got so much frustrated that we decided to come back to our hostel. As a matter of courtesy, I sent an SMS to our rescuer and explained him about our situation. To our surprise, he called us immediately and directed us to wait near the police station till his further update. After some 10 minutes we got an SMS from him asking us to meet the police men again. In that SMS he also gave the contact details of the ACP of the local district (Powai) and asked us to speak to him in case of problem.

After getting the SMS we went to the police station, could not believe the sea change in the behaviour of local police. “are saab ke liye chai lao.. aap yaahan baithie, laiye, hum aapke complain receive karte hain.. VIP Treatment! For some time, I could not believe, whether that was a dream or reality. But that was the reality and we could manage this time; filed our complaint, got it stamped and assurance for further help. We thanked the God and the rescuer. It took 3.5 hours to file a complaint though.

Came back to lab and thanked my guide for the help. His morning advice was the best new year gift for me. The case got solved in another 30 days without much problem. Our rescuer made it sure that I get no threat and no calls from the bank. Finally I got a letter from the bank on the reversal of the transaction and the fine.

A fraud transaction had happened on my card, happened with one of my friend recently (even though he happens to be a manager in the issuing bank) and can happen with you aamjunta at any time. Be careful and tactful while dealing with the bank, recovery agents and the police. Keep a track of all your transactions and make sure to get an SMS for every transaction you made.

Wish you a Happy and Fraud Free New Year 2009.

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