The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Agents of credit-card fraud
- It can happen to you, beware of the charm marketers

New Delhi, May 8: The agent who arrives at your home or office and tries to sell you that extra credit card may be hiding sinister motives behind his over-polite manners.

Ask Bharat Kumar Mahi.

The anxiety began for the Delhi businessman moments after the innocuous double beep that accompanied an SMS he received on May 2. Two seconds later, he says, he knew “something was wrong”.

The SMS told him that Rs 22,396 had been deducted from his ICICI Bank account for three Air Deccan tickets bought against his credit card.

“I had made no such transactions. I immediately called police,” Mahi said.

A day later, the police had uncovered a scary plot — a credit card racket where the crooks weren’t bank employees but the friendly agents seeking your card details on the pretext of helping you. “I had never thought that the simple-looking man who came to my home in April could be behind such a racket,” Mahi said.

Delhi police yesterday arrested four men who used the age-old weapon of charm to swindle Mahi and, officers claim, 12 others.

Shubhnath Jha, Saroj Singh and Jitender Giri, three of the arrested men, worked as direct selling agents (also called direct marketing agents) who sold credit cards for ICICI, ABN AMRO and Citibank.

They would gently ask customers for their existing credit cards, ostensibly to help them write the card numbers on the form for the new card.

“They would quickly scan the backs of the cards, which carry the secret number, especially the last three digits used in transactions,” said Naresh Kumar, deputy commissioner of police, Indira Gandhi International Airport.

The trio would pass these numbers on to the fourth man, Konthujam Ishwar Chander Singh, believed to be the kingpin. Chander Singh would use these numbers to buy airline e-tickets and sell them to other customers.

“This trend of direct selling agents being involved in the racket is worrying. It’s yet to be properly addressed by the banks,” Kumar said.

A fifth man was arrested today after he was found travelling on a fraudulently bought ticket, but banks were unfazed.

“These are rare mishaps. Even the most foolproof of systems can be occasionally breached,” said Rasheed Khan, manager (customer care) with ABN Amro.

The “foolproof” system the banks offer, however, is centred on the customer’s own watchfulness.

On at least two occasions, the supposed agent was not the person authorised by the firm the bank had hired. Therefore, the bank argued, it was not responsible for the customer’s loss.

The police’s advice is, make sure the person before you is the bank’s authorised agent. “The bank then cannot claim not to be responsible,” Kumar said.

Each direct selling agent is assigned a unique number by his firm (which has been hired by the bank). Officers say you should always ask him for the number, his name and contact details of his firm.

Get the bank to corroborate the agent’s identity from the number and confirm that the firm he claims to work for is the one it has hired. Also get the contact details confirmed.

Now call the firm and verify that the agent was indeed sent to you at the time he came to your home.

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