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Feb 18

Visiting India is always a bittersweet experience for me. I see so many things changing but so many things remain the same. Who can forget the dud Aakash tablet ? And now hot on its heels comes the latest ‘’pretend’ to make in India product, the Freedom 251 phone. The phone launched at a price point of Rs. 251 promises that its the world’s cheapest smartphone. Boasting of 8GB internal memory and 1GB of RAM along with a 1.3 Ghz Quad core processor, the specs are no joke for the price tag. However the phone and its gaffes are super jokes unless the company is able to do some serious explaining.

For one, all icons on the phone are blatant copies of the Apple iPhone, they even copied the Safari icon for their generic browser on their Android 5.1. Most of the other icons such as music are also copies of the iPhone. A news source was quoting company sources as saying that Apple has not copyrighted these icons. Calling bullshit on that ! Even the start interface looks like Apple’s and the home button and rounded edges are also copies of the legendary Apple phone.

The company also plans to setup plants in Noida worth over 250 crores, however there is no indication of how they would actually get this money. With the 4 month delivery promise, it looks like a pyramid scheme at the moment. The Indian govt. also seems to have some shady partnership with this company with the Freedom 251 makers proposing to launch with Govt. bloatware apps like Swach Bharat and Farmer and Women Safety. The company however claims no subsidy if being given to them.

The phone also has the Indian tricolor to further impress upon the fact that its an Indian phone, however the test phones given to some media outlets had Adcom branding whitened out , and the company Adcom is just an importer of IT products. So the more someone questions and digs into this so called cheap smartphone, the more it becomes apparent that its largely a scam and the make in India part is probably just an eyewash to sell more units to those who think having a phone with the tricolor makes them more patriotic. Also the legality of putting the Indian flag on the phone needs to be questioned.

Only time will tell how things unfold, but if you are lucky enough to get this phone for 251, don’t be disillusioned, its not an example of Indian engineering, but more-so of Indian jugaad and trickery. I hope that I am wrong and this is a company with indeed good intentions and a good product, but it seems very unlikely that its the case.

With no products out till now, the following mission statement might evoke a chuckle :

Established in 2015, Ringing Bells Pvt. Ltd. is one of the fastest growing smartphone companies in India. We design and produce smart phones to provide a satisfying mobile experience for users, so that their valuable time is spent doing things/tasks they love, instead of figuring out ways to use the phone.

We have a complete in-house product testing set-up in India. With best-in-class features, Freedom251 is the Indian smartphone brand at highly affordable prices. We are an amazing team of smartphone lovers who collaborate seamlessly to exchange technical and qualitative inputs and create quality products, along with testing at several stages to deliver the ultimate customer experience in its category.

We convert consumers’ needs and insights into amazing products using deep requirement analysis and bridging gap by offering products with superior value through high quality and best-in-class features at an affordable price.


Jan 11

In a bizarre move HDFC Bank has decided to charge its preferred customers Rs.100 quarterly fee just for having the preferred status. The move seems bizarre since preferred customers must already put a lot of money in the bank to qualify in the preferred program. Moreover according to the website Preferred customers enjoy service fee waivers for common charges like money orders and extra statements etc. Its referred to as Program Management Fee from HDFC Bank.

To become a preferred customer you must satisfy the following criteria :

You are eligible for the HDFC Bank Preferred Programme ** if you:

  • Hold at least one Savings or Current account, sole or joint, with HDFC Bank.
  • Maintain a minimum Average Monthly balance of Rs. 15 Lakhs across all your accounts (Savings, Current and Fixed Deposits*)
    OR
  • Maintain an Average Quarterly Balance of Rs. 2 Lakhs in your Savings account.
    OR
  • Maintain an Average Quarterly Balance of Rs. 5 Lakhs in your Current account.

So despite having lakhs of rupees in your HDFC bank account, they still want to charge Rs.400 + tax to you every year in the name of program management fee.

Programme(sic) Management fee : A nominal Programme Management fee of Rs.100, per quarter is applicable per customer ID, on the Imperia (probably a typo) Banking Programme for Savings and Current Account holders, effective from Jan’16 . Services tax applicable. T&C Apply

So how does this move of charging your most loyal customers make sense ? Beats us. Some MBA probably decided that lets take our richest customers for a ride and extract even more money from them. Despite amazing profits the bank’s move to milk its best customers seems like a pretty counter intuitive move to me. I for one am going to close my NRO account the next time I visit India.

So do you have a HDFC Bank preferred account ? What do you feel about them charging you Rs.400 per year (+tax) extra ?


Dec 29

Lets start from the beginning of the timeline. Its October first week, I am in the US. Out of OCD and habit I check my Indian credit card by Standard Chartered. I see that there is a charge of almost 30000 rupees which I don’t recognize. I immediately call their call center and after going through a tedious IVRS system I finally get to talk to a real person. My call disconnects twice before I can complete the dispute. I send in a dispute declaration form to the bank for further processing the dispute. If I were in the US, this would be the end of it, the merchant would be penalized. That was not to be. Since we were in the beautiful land of India, everyone was just hoping to take customers for a ride. Standard Chartered and as I found Bank of Baroda later which was the payment processor for the merchant were pushing for the same.

After submitting the dispute form, I received a temporary credit and the online customer service advised me to pay the disputed money otherwise they would charge finance charges. I was shocked and flabbergasted at this. This is directly in contravention of any rule or guideline concerning the dispute process. I wrote off a letter to the RBI ombudsman after this highlighting that not only is Standard Chartered not assisting me properly, they are trying to arm twist me into payment. I also highlighted other procedural lapses by the bank. Here is a relevant portion of my letter to the RBI copied to standard chartered bank :

image

I sent the letters and promptly got busy in worklife. Pretty soon the dispute was closed in the merchant’s favor. I got to know this in standard chartered bank’s response to the RBI. It was full of half truths, but the most fascinating thing was the proof the merchant had submitted.

image

They claimed that a chargeslip was the proof of the transaction as submitted by the merchant. Its ridiculous that Indian banks think their customers are so dumb and illiterate. And this too in response to the RBI ombudsman. A chargeslip is generated in every transaction, it cannot be proof that someone committed the transaction. It’s common sense one would argue, however Standard Chartered bank had the audacity to attach the chargeslip as proof to the RBI. Thankfully, I still had my card and the signature on the chargeslip was just swiggly lines. They also claim this is industry standard, wow and yikes at the same time. If our CC industry believes that a chargeslip is proof enough for a transaction then I can safely say no fraud has even been committed using credit cards offline in India. Is this really the industry standard ?

Here is the fraudulent chageslip in all its glory, notice that the name looks like Waseem, maybe its fake or maybe the thief signed his real name :

image

What was interesting in Standard Chartered’s response to the RBI was that they agreed to reopen the dispute after initially deciding against me only due to the fact that I was abroad. I cringe at what would happen if I was in India, then the chargeslip with fake signature would have ensured that Standard Chartered would hold me responsible for the charge ? They also cleverly asked the RBI to close the complaint. At this point, I asked dad to prepare filing a case in consumer court, there was no way I was going to pay the fraudulent charges.

image

So post this drama, I shot off a response to RBI and Standard Chartered bank again questioning the shoddy proof and also asking the RBI to not close the complaint since the essence of the complaint was infact the charge itself and not whether they were allowing me to dispute it. Here is a copy of some of my points in the letter :

However to get to the pertinent points regarding the dispute:

1. I was not present in the country when the said transaction happened, and I have the card in my possession.

2. The signature shared by the merchant bank doesn’t even look like my name and just seems like scribbling. This is the signature on the back of my card for reference. As you can see as a security measure I had even scratched off the 3 digit CVV and always used the card carefully.

The merchant has obviously done a poor job of matching the signature for such a high value transaction or checking the identity.

3. I have also filed a case with the Navi Mumbai Police’s cyber cell

<complaint numbers here>

4. Given the facts of the case, I am able to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the transaction is fraudulent and not committed by me and I have the card in my possession so there is no negligence on my part. I reported the fraud transaction as soon as I got to know about it.

Question to Bank:

I fail to understand how the charge slip is any kind of ‘proof’ that I had committed the transaction. It’s not evidence, it’s a fact that anytime a transaction happens, a chargeslip is generated. How is that even pertinent to the case at hand?

What is evidence is that the signature is a complete mismatch and scribble and since I did not sign that chargeslip, I am not the one who entered into the contract to pay for that charge.

Since the bank claims the dispute is currently in investigation, I accept their submission to wait for an outcome.

I would request RBI to keep the complaint open till a decision is reached by the bank in the matter. The crux of my complaint is that the transaction is obviously not done by me and I should not be responsible for the fraud and that matter is not yet resolved by the bank.

Thanks

Wisetechie

Copy to :

Nodal Officer, Standard Chartered Bank

After waiting for another month and a half, today I finally seem to have gotten confirmation that the disputed charge is finally reversed from my account. I hope this is the end of it. There is an important lesson in all of this especially if you use credit products in India. the protections to consumers seem to be very flimsy. If you use a credit product in India, insist on a chip card and if you use your card at restaurants, insist to go along with the waiter to swipe the card. Scratch off the CVV from the back of the card and most importantly flex your rights. My blood still boils thinking of how the chargeslip was meant to be proof of me committing the transaction. In my opinion it was only because I was in the US that the dispute was decided in my favor  (it still took 2.5 months).


Oct 18

I am a hardcore Amazon fan. I don’t mind paying for prime to get the free shipping and the awesome service I receive. So when Amazon opened up its subsidiary in India, I expected similar stellar service and regard for customer from them in India too. Till now I hadn’t had a chance to test Amazon India’s website. This Saturday was going to change all that. Dad wanted to me buy a mixer grinder for the maid and Amazon apparently had a good deal. A maharaja mixer grinder for Rs. 899. Nice deal I thought. Except when I started to search for the item on their website, I couldn’t find it. No matter how hard I searched, I just couldn’t locate it. Here is the ad in question, 100 points to you if you can locate this on amazon.in. I had heard of Flipkart’s infamous billion day sale disaster, but this was new.

Amazon.in fake sale ad

 

I started a chat session with customer care, the session in all its glory is below. As you can see the chat person was polite but really couldn’t do anything to help me out. She tried to search at her end and then just told me to keep checking for it every 30 minutes. As if I don’t have anything better to do than to keep refreshing Amazon.in’s site.

amazon fake sale

 

Well screw you Amazon India, I just went to Infibeam.com and got another deal at a decent price, slightly more than what Amazon had promised though. I also gave feedback at the end of the session asking to be contacted, well no one ever contacted me, strike 2 for amazon.in. For a company that prides itself on customer service, this is a really bad way to start an international subsidiary. Hoping the folks at Seattle take note.


Oct 10

Ok, so its no news to people that most banks in India are pathetic to customers. I think I am going to see some of that first hand. I woke one October morning seeing an abnormally high balance on my Standard Chartered India credit card. I was here sitting in the US so wondered why the large balance, I sent out a mail, soon there was a charge on my statement which I didn’t recognize. The charge was in Navi Mumbai, a city I have not visited for more than 5 years I think. So I call up Standard Chartered bank in India, went through their ancient and archaic phone banking system, and somehow managed to reach someone on phonebanking.

Suspiciously, I got disconnected twice on telling them about the dispute. Third time was a charm, I was told my card is blocked and I was told to send across a dispute form to them. I was also told I would get a temporary credit to my account. Awesome ! , yeah right, they are just complying with the law here. Note that I reported the fraud as soon as I could humanly, I didn’t get an alert on the transaction on my phone and even before the transaction had posted to my account, I had filed a dispute. I had my phone from India here and didn’t receive a call or SMS regarding the transaction worth half my credit limit in a city thousands of kilometers away from where I stay. so much for Standard Chartered’s automatic fraud detection. If I ever interview someone who has worked for them, I will ask about their algos or lack of algos to detect fraud.

Here is where things do downhill however, they are doing the above just to comply with the law, the real shrewdness of the bank comes in now. This is the dispute process outlined by the bank in a response to my netbanking message :

1) With regard to Dispute:

We are in receipt of the Dispute Declaration Form and have forwarded the same to the concerned department to investigate the disputed transactions.

We inform you that, we had provided temporary credit to your card account for the disputed transaction and the same will reflect in your next statement.   
As the process involves the concerned Merchant Establishment, his Banker and us, we will need a minimum of 45-50 days to complete the investigation. Formal correspondence will be sent to you with regard to the outcome of investigation.

We request you to contact us after 14 November 2015 to update with you the dispute status.

2) With regard to Dispute payment process:

Please note that you have the following two options regarding the repayment towards your account while the disputed charge is being investigated at our end.

a) You can pay the total outstanding (including the amount disputed), to ensure no financial charges are billed to your card account in the subsequent statements, while the investigations are in progress.

b) You have the option of paying the outstanding in your account less the transaction disputed by you. Your subsequent statements will incur financial charges due to short payment towards your outstanding amount.

Upon completion of the investigation at our end;

1) If we find that you have incurred the charges based on the supporting documents, the amount would be debited to your card account and you would be liable to pay the same, along with the financial charges accrued.

2) If we find that you have not incurred the charges (in the absence of any supporting documents provided to us by the Merchant), the permanent credit will be provided to your card account.

If the dispute resolves in customer’s favour, the financial charges will be reversed to their card account along with the disputed transaction.

 

This is the WTF part to me. Why am I responsible for these finance charges while the dispute is being processed. What’s the point of a temporary credit, only to appease RBI gods ? And why do I need to contact them after Nov 14th ? , shouldn’t they call me and let me know, they owe it to me when I have an annual fee of Rs.999 on the card. It’s a Manhattan Platinum, their most premier card. Well obviously, the disregard for the customer is uniform. There is a nice article on RBI around credit card disputes, apparently in 2013 RBI had asked banks to install chip and pin machines and to give chip and pin cards. The lazy cheap folks at Standard Chartered bank didn’t bother to issue a chip and pin card to me to save a little money. Compare that to HDFC and Citibank who had both issued chip and pin cards to me. Quoting from the article :

Pointing out that banks were told that there would be no further extensions, the RBI said, “It has been decided not to grant any further extension of time. Accordingly, banks not complying with the requirements shall compensate loss, if any, incurred by the cardholder using card at POS terminals not adhering to the mandated standards.”

There are usually two banks in every credit card transaction. One that issued the credit card and the other that has installed the swipe machine. The RBI has said that the card issuing bank should ascertain in three days whether the fraud has taken in a non-compliant machine and within seven days refund the money to the cardholder. The card issuing bank will in turn recover the money from the bank which has installed the swipe machine.

Not sure if it was even legal as per RBI for Stan Chart to not update my card to a chip and pin one.

There is also an onus now on banks to prove the credit card owner acted fraudulently, again, good luck proving that in court :

This has resulted in banks levying late-payment penalty. The new rule is announced by the Banking Cdes and Standard Board of India (BCSBI) that works to protect customer rights. It makes banks responsible to find evidence that the customer had authorised and was responsible for the disputed transactions.

I really hope I don’t have to go to court for this since I don’t want to waste time, but seeing Stan Chart’s response (finance charges making my blood boil), this may go down south pretty soon. To be fair, they haven’t yet decided the dispute. Lets see what information the merchant presents.


Sep 21

I was reading through Reddit India today and it seemed like the topmost post was for a user who reported Airtel for showcasing false broadband plans from a different state. Well I too have a story to share about a false misleading advertisement. the ad was from Naaptol.com advertising their shitty ‘Aluminum’ wallet. It was told to have RFID blocking capabilities to protect your PAN card and your Aadhar card. Intelligent readers would have already thought of the fact that none of these have RFID chips. What irked me more was that my dad asked me to buy the wallet for him. I was not going to buy this shitty wallet and decided to ensure that the misleading ad is caught. I immediately filed a complaint, but to be honest I didn’t expect much.

A week after filing the complaint the ASCI had forwarded the complaint to Naaptol.com, and a month later (ish) they had a response for me where they had upheld my complaint.

Here is the response from ASCI in the matter :

 

Apr 7, 2015

Dear Mr. <name redacted>,

Re: Decision – Your complaint against the advertisement Naaptol Online Shopping P. Ltd(*)-(Aluminium Secure Wallet)

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————–
The complaint was considered by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) at their meeting.

As per their decision, the complaint was UPHELD. The CCC viewed the TVC and considered the Advertiser’s response. The CCC concluded that the claim in the TVC, “the product prevents theft of information from contact-less RFID cards”, was not substantiated and was considered to be misleading. The Advertiser has not provided data wherein their product did indeed thwart attempts at reading the RFID information from cards, nor if the wallet is indeed made out of aluminum, as claimed, and if so, to what extent. The depiction of a chip-based card as an RFID card is misleading. PAN and Aadhar cards issued by Indian Government agencies have no RFID features. Hence the claim of protection purportedly provided by the product in the context presented “PAN card and Aadhar card are also safe in this’, appears misleading as to information skimming.

The TVC shows tests against similar products but the tests are not of skimming of RFID information. The tests shown are like those of dropping wallets. The TVC contravened Chapters I.1 and I.4 of the Code.

We have requested the Advertiser to modify appropriately or to withdraw the said advertisement by April 16, 2015.

Thank you for having referred this complaint to us.

Assuring you of our services in the pursuit of Self-Regulation in Advertising.

Yours faithfully,

<name redacted>
Executive Assistant
The Advertising Standards Council Of India.

The purpose of this post is not to blow my own horn but to guide people around how to complain about misleading advertisement in India. Here is an infographic from their site.

 

How to lodge a complaint

 

If you spot a false or misleading advertisement, log onto ASCI’s website and file a complaint. That one complaint could save the hard earned money for millions of people. You will get a tracking number and will be sent regular updates on the progress. While self regulation sounds shady, the 2 successes I know of now give me more hope around there being a better future for advertisement in India. Here’s a tip of the hat to the The Advertising Standards Council Of India.