Fraud Alert: SOP for Filing Complaint To Recover Lost Money
Last month, the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) directed HDFC Bank Ltd to refund Rs24,000 with an interest of 7%pa (per annum) and pay Rs10,000 litigation cost to a customer whose credit card was used for fraudulent transactions at midnight. What stands out in this ruling is the way the customer filed his complaint and his meticulous follow-up until he got justice. 
 
The NCDRC bench of Dr Inder Jit Singh made it a point to note that "...the Complainant (New Delhi-based Parveen Kumar Jain) took all reasonable measures as were expected from him, and there was no contributory negligence on his part with respect to the credit card used by someone else fraudulently, and he reported such transactions immediately to the Bank."
 
A few days ago, I received a call from Mr Marathe (name changed) from Pune regarding a fraud perpetrated on him. Two of his debit cards were used to siphon money from his bank accounts fraudulently and he wanted my help to recover it. I requested him to send an email, but he insisted on speaking over the phone, saying he would be brief (but kept talking for over 10 minutes!). This is a routine occurrence at Moneylife and only wastes time for everyone. 
 
I asked Mr Marathe if he had immediately reported the matter to his bank and whether he had filed a complaint on NCRP by dialling 1930 or a first information report (FIR) with his local police station. He told me that he called the Bank's customer care number, and they assured him of all the possible help. He says he visited the police station and they assured him of an investigation by the cybercrime cell. However, in both places, since he provided no written communication, he did not have anything in writing.
 
When he received verbal assurances of help and investigation, do you think if there is any need to put anything in writing? Unfortunately, Yes. Nothing in our country works on verbal assurances. Even for a follow-up, Mr Marathe or victims like him would need documentary evidence (like an acknowledged copy of the complaint) or have to narrate the issue repeatedly with little likelihood of follow-up action. 
 
Let us go back to the HDFC Bank case mentioned earlier. Mr Jain did the following—called the Bank and reported the incident, followed it up with another call the next day and sent a dispute form as requested by the Bank. He also submitted a copy of his complaint to the local police station and a progressive dispute form, as requested by HDFC Bank. It is worth noting that even after completing all these formalities, he had to approach the consumer court to get justice. That is the last resort for a consumer if dispute redress at the organisation level fails.
 
In all criminal matters, evidence plays a crucial role in nailing criminals and impounding the proceeds of crime. But, typically, people are too lazy or do not know how to file a comprehensive complaint that states facts effectively and in sequence. Many complaints are full of blame, doubts, and recrimination but short on facts and details—they tend to get ignored. 
 
In an interesting case, a victim of unauthorised withdrawals from an ATM, received his entire money back from State Bank of India (SBI). Pankaj Kumar Singh of Randhawa village in Punjab showed the police his ATM card (read: evidence). He visited the SBI branch at Dasuya on the same day and informed them about the fraudulent transactions. His counsel successfully argued before NCDRC that "...it is impossible to go to Mumbai (where the fraudulent withdrawal took place), which is almost 1,800km away and come back to Dasuya within six hours, since all the fraudulent transactions took place between 11.37pm on 3 April 2014 and 12.23pm on 4 April 2014, while the ATM card was in Mr Singh's possession throughout." (Read: SBI Asked To Refund Rs80,000 Illegally Withdrawn from ATM, Pay Additional Litigation Cost of Rs20,000)  
 
While calling customer care to report fraud is a good practice, it must be followed up with an email or letter to the financial institution (FI) or bank from where the money is siphoned. In this communication, you must mention the date, time, and telephone number where you called, the name of the executive you spoke with and describe what you agreed to during the phone call. For example, if the customer care executive had agreed to block your card and register a complaint, mention that 'so and so was agreed during the call'. Even if the financial institution or bank does not respond to your communication, you have already created a record of contacting them within the limit prescribed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). 
 
Victims of cybercrime also need to produce the necessary evidence to support their complaints. For example, SMS, credit card receipt, bank statement, envelope (if received a letter or item through mail or courier), brochure or pamphlet, online money transfer receipt, copy of email(s), URL of webpage(s), chat transcripts, suspect mobile number screenshot, videos, images and any other kind of document related to the crime. 
 
Often, a complainant needs to file complaints with multiple organisations and authorities depending on the nature of the complaint—there isn't one single standard operating procedure (SOP) for every type of fraud. 
 
The following steps are a good guide to filing an effective complaint and increasing your chance of recovering money.
 
1. When you become aware of the fraudulent transaction, check your bank account statement, SMS or emails. If the fraud is confirmed, immediately call 1930 the toll-free number of the National Cybercrime Reporting Portal (NCRP) or visit the NCR portal, https://cybercrime.gov.in/, to report the incident. Balkrishna Wagh, retired assistant police commissioner (ACP) of Maharashtra police, highlighted the importance of the 'golden hour' in reporting a cybercrime while addressing a seminar at Moneylife Foundation. He said it is important to file the complaint or report to 1930 at least within four hours to help the police trace and block funds effectively.
 
When this happens, the Citizen Financial Cyber Frauds Reporting and Management System (CFCFRMS) platform works in tandem with law enforcement agencies (LEAs), RBI, National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI), banks, and financial intermediaries to ensure quick action and prevent money from being siphoned off by fraudsters, says Mr Wagh.
 
When calls are made to 1930, the police operator notes the complaint and basic personal information of the caller and submits it on the CFCFRMS platform to raise a ticket. When the victim reports the incident to the NCR portal, a ticket is similarly generated after successful filing.
 
The ticket is escalated to the concerned bank(s), e-wallet(s), merchants and other relevant parties, depending on their involvement in the incident. If the defrauded money is still available, the financial institution or bank puts it on hold, thus blocking the fraudster from withdrawing it and reporting it to the concerned state police. Victims who reported the online fraud quickly have succeeded in getting their money back. 
 
2. Report the incident to your bank. While you may call the official customer care numbers, it is important to follow up with an email or letter describing your conversation with the executive. Also, send an email to the official email ID of your branch (you can find it on the bank's website or your passbook) with a copy sent to the bank's customer care. This will be helpful if you face a liability issue with the bank.
 
3. Visit your local police station and report the incident. If your complaint is already registered on the NCRP and forwarded to the state police, then your local police will not register an FIR. Instead, they will coordinate and extend all possible help to the concerned team handling your case. 
 
4. Follow up with your bank and also check the progress or status with NCRP and the local police station. 
 
5. You must also know the exact provision of limited liability of customers in fraudulent bank transactions and rules issued by RBI for mobile wallets and prepaid payment instruments (PPI) issued by non-banking entities. As per the RBI circular issued on 6 July 2017, in case of contributory fraud, negligence, or deficiency from the bank, the customer will have zero liability, irrespective of whether or not she reports the unauthorised transaction. In case of a third-party breach, where there is no liability on the bank, and the customer reports it to the bank within three days, then also she is entitled to zero liability. 
 
In addition, banks are asked to credit the amount involved in the unauthorised electronic banking transaction to the customer's account within 10 days of reporting by the customer. (Read: RBI Acts within 72 Hours of Our TweetMorcha)
 
In January 2019, RBI issued rules for mobile wallets and prepaid payment instruments (PPIs) issued by non-banking entities. Under the new rules, customers will have zero liability in case of fraud, negligence or deficiency from the PPI issuer and if the customer reports the unauthorised electronic transaction within three days. Most importantly, the burden of proving customer liability in case of unauthorised electronic payment transactions is on the PPI issuer and not on customers, as per the RBI rules. (Read: RBI Limits Liability of Customers in Unauthorised Electronic Transactions Involving PPIs Like Paytm, PhonePe, GooglePay, among Others)
 
6. Escalate: If there is no response or updates on your complaint from the financial institution or bank, or police, you need to escalate it to a higher level. For financial institutions and banks, you need to communicate with the nodal officer and then take up the matter with the banking ombudsman or the consumer disputes redressal commission. For the police department, you can meet and submit a letter seeking a status update or progress report on your complaint with senior officials, including the ACP of your area. If needed, you can also file an application under the Right to Information (RTI) Act seeking copies of your complaint, action taken report, and file notings. 
 
7. Use social media: You can tag the appropriate handles of the police, bank or financial institutions and escalate the issue. Most LEAs and organisations quickly respond on social media like X (erstwhile Twitter) and request details through direct messages (DM). So, share the information through DM (only) to know the status of your complaint. 
 
Stay Informed, Stay Safe!!
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Martian Investor
4 months ago
informative article
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