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Home > India > Business > Columnists > Nandita Mallik

How credit card issuers have fleeced me

April 17, 2008

How many times have you been fleeced by banks on credit card payment and how many times have you vowed not to use them any more? A zillion times, I bet.

But you broke the promise faster than you made it -- in the face of an emergency or sheer greed. Credit cards are now an inseparable part of our lives. Unfortunately, so are some of these unscrupulous banks.

As if things were not bad enough earlier, now you have to deal with the call centre 'executives' -- who address you as 'Sir', even though your name and voice sound quite feminine and who politely threaten to charge 'late fees' for not paying the bill even though your bank statement shows that the amount had been duly deducted from your account.

These 'executives' conveniently call you on your mobile phone at odd hours and try to peddle insurance products, including one that pays you if you break your bones. My powers of tolerance keep me from telling them that I hope someone breaks their bones and then the bank can pay them the insurance money. But one of these days, I might do just that.

For the past few months I have had some hilarious, and some utterly infuriating, experiences with banks and credit cards and thought of sharing them with you: not just to vent my frustration, but also to ring a warning bell.

Please be careful, please read your credit card statements properly. Also please keep a record of all the freebies (read 'life-time free card' offers, etc) that banks promise.

I will start with the most recent. Last evening, when I looked at my XYZ Bank credit card statement, I was surprised to find that I owed the bank Rs 2,000 as membership renewal fee, plus service charges and education cess. Nothing wrong with that: only that the card was supposed to be a life-time free card, hence there was to be NO renewal fee.

When I called the 24-hour customer service this morning the lady at the other end, while being extremely cooperative, informed me that I have two options. One, pay up the amount; two, reverse the amount so that it becomes zero balance!

I told her, that I have two options in mind. One, NOT pay the amount; two, return the card. To which she hastily added that she was reversing the amount and the next statement will be zero balance, if, of course I do not make any transactions on it.

Point to note: Please read your credit card statements very carefully. Since there was no transaction on this particular card, the amount stood out and was easily noticeable.

Then there's another card that I have; from a bank that 'never sleeps.' It's a different matter that they let others sleep very little too.

Last year I made a transaction of about Rs 50,000 on the card. And have since then paid the minimum amount without checking the details. An extremely foolish thing to do, I agree.

One sunny morning, my muddled brain got activated and I decided to read the details. It was then that I realised that I was paying an EMI (equated monthly instalment) of Rs 2,500, plus service charges plus charges for transactions made this year plus education cess. EMI? For what, I asked myself and then the 'executive' who answered my call.

He very politely pointed out, "It must be for the loan that you took." Duh! Loan? What loan? I have not taken any loan. He again said, "Madam, you must have forgotten about this loan." Now, I might be a nitwit, but such a big one?

I allowed the blood to flow all the way up to my rusted brain and then requested him to check and tell me when did I take this 'loan.' He said he can give me the information only after making some mandatory verification. I said, go ahead, since they are my details I know them by heart, nitwit or not.

So he rattled off the questions and just when I could feel the blood rising once more, he asked me about the last transaction I made. I gave him the exact figure. "Last payment you made, madam?" I gave him the exact figure. "The two payments you made before that, madam?" Well, here he stumped me. I gave him the approximate figures. Very apologetically, he told me that he needed the exact figure as this was sensitive information. Sensitive? All I wanted to know was when I took that 'loan' for which I was paying through my nose.

So the next day I again called the bank, armed with five card statements. After the verification, I came to the crucial question. When did I take the loan? In September, I was told by a girl this time. I took a loan in September? "No madam, you converted the transaction of Rs 50,000 to the EMI format in September."

I almost fell off the chair. To cut a long story short, she said that 'executives' from the bank had called on my mobile phone and I had agreed to the 'offer!' Did I sign any papers? Can she provide me with some proof? What about the interest rate being charged? And for how long would I be paying this EMI? "No, madam, such things are done over the phone and involve no paperwork."

Before you jump to the conclusion that I indeed have really rotten memory, let me state that I was in a hospital bed gasping the whole of September and most of October!

Point to note: DO NOT believe anything these 'executives' say over the phone unless the bank sends you proper documents.

Which leaves me wondering, will these banks dare to act likewise in the West? Or is such treatment reserved for Indians? Forget about the West, will they be allowed to get away with such harassment in some other Asian nations, say China, for example?

Of course, the least said about their SMS service the better. This month, I first received an SMS from a bank of whose card I hold stating that they have received a check of Rs xxx, subject to realization. Then came a threatening call that if I don't pay up the bank will have to penalise me! Then comes a 'reminder SMS,' that the due date is such-and-such.

And all from this from a bank that doesn't sleep! Lack of sleep is honestly affecting their efficiency. At least, in India.