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Debit side of the credit card
November, 27th 2006

"Who would have thought that things will one day be so rosy," wondered Rahul, a young CA. He was on a trip down memory lane and his mind rewound to 1999, when he had to sit through some of the most soporific CA classes, battling for space with hundreds of students in the classroom.

His climb up the corporate ladder had been meteoric. It now had a fat salary, an attractive bonus, and many perks a plush house, a swanky car, a Blackberry, and a high-end lap top.

His thoughts were interrupted by his mom, a super chef. She called out, "Hey, it's time for lunch. Dad's waiting." Rahul quickly had a shower and joined his parents at the lunch table. "It is only on Sundays that we get to eat together," his lawyer father remarked. "What about your month long global training programme in England?" he asked. His mother chipped in, "Rahul, do not forget the wedding preparations... We have less than six months to go." As if he would forget! For sure, dads thought about careers and moms about marriagess.

The envelope

After the sumptuous lunch, Rahul was rummaging through the snail mails. One was from his Institute for which the membership fee had fallen due. Another was a mobile phone bill, the third was a CPE Seminar invitation. Then a bright window envelope that read "Free Credit Card" caught his attention.

He had less than a week to prepare for his trip to England. The travels papers had not arrived and there was the blessed packing to be done. The very idea that he had to carry warm clothes galled him. After all, in Chennai he had been used to only three kinds of weather hot, hotter and hottest. Realising that he was running out of time, he picked up the mobile and called his friend.

"Hi Rajiv. Can you do me a favour? Can you pay my Institute fees? I am travelling and don't have enough time to attend to it." He could take such liberties with Rajiv, his buddy since school days. In fact, both had studied CA together.

The trap

Rahul then quickly made an online payment for the mobile phone bill and then opened the cover that had caught his attention. He already had a card but thought another would be of help, especially since he would have to make purchases for the wedding.

The letter was an offer for a free card; it said that his credit record was outstanding. He smiled. Had the wording been different the letter might have said that there were dues outstanding on his earlier card!

The letter assured him that there were no hidden costs and that it was free for life. All he had to do was give his existing card details and information such as date of birth, background and so on. He did that and placed it in the self-addressed envelope and decided to courier it first thing next morning.

The week passed by and before long it was Friday time to leave for England. He had barely managed to pack for the trip making last minute purchases. As he boarded the taxi that would take him to the airport, he waved at his mom and said, "Ask dad to pay my credit card bill it should fall due around this time."

Surpise of suprises

The training was great. London was a great place for sight seeing. But Rahul was happy to be back home. After all, it was familiar terrain! During the transit at Mumbai he wanted to buy a few books. He gave his credit card to settle the bill.

Surprise of surprises, the vendor told him that his card was no longer in use. Rahul wondered why. Maybe his parents had forgotten to pay the dues? He would soon find out. On landing at Chennai he was delighted to see his parents waiting to receive him at the airport. Their affection moved him.

Once back home, he enquired, "Did you pay for my credit card dues?" Mom said, "No. We didn't receive any statement from the bank." Now that was strange. How could his card company have missed out? He rummaged through his old statements and located the call-centre number. On enquiry, he was told that his card number had been blocked and a fresh card issued to him at his request and an auto-debit to his account had been enabled. Also his address had been changed.

Rahul was shocked. He tried to reason with the call-centre girl that he was out of India and had not made such a request. The lady was not of any great help and so he decided to take up the issue directly with the bank. Rahul rushed to the card company. On the way, he called Rajiv and narrated the events. "Did you give your personal details to anyone?" asked Rajiv. "Yes," replied Rahul "there was an offer for a charge free credit card I filled in the details in that form."

Rajiv understood what had happened. "Clearly somebody has used your information to notify that your original card is lost and has obtained a duplicate one with a change of address. Ask the company to block the card attached to your account. And lodge a complaint with the police." Rahul met the customer service cell officer, verified his credentials and then blocked the card. The officer informed him that he was not alone and that many others had lodged similar requests.

Fortunately for Rahul, the monetary loss was not much. He was poorer by Rs 15,000. That day he learnt an invaluable lesson that digital identity is far more sensitive than physical identity. That in the new world of paper money, technology and the Internet, he had to be a lot more careful.

V. Pattabhi Ram
R. Chandrasekhar

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