V Pattabhi Ram and R Chandrasekar
“Who would have thought that things would one day look so rosy” wondered Rahul, the young CA. He was on a trip down memory lane as his mind raced to 1999 when he had to sit through some of the most soporific CA classes battling with hundreds of others who jostled for space in the classroom.
Today, his climb up the corporate ladder had been meteoric. It brought in its wake a fat salary, an attractive bonus besides all the perks of office. Like, a plush house, a swanky car, a state of the art blackberry, a lap top at technology’s leading edge, and credit cards of choice.
His thoughts were disturbed by his mom, a super chef. She called out, “Hey, it’s time for lunch. Dad’s waiting.” Rahul quickly dashed off to have 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 program at 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 career and moms about marriages.
A sumptuous lunch later, Rahul was rummaging through the “snail mails”, today’s lingo for the mails that come by post. One was from his Institute for which the membership fees had fallen due. Another was a mobile bill, the third was a CPE Seminar invitation when a bright window envelope which read “Free Credit Card” caught his attention.
He had less than a week to prepare for his trip to England. The travels papers were still to come and then there was the blessed packing. 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. At least that was the quip.
Realizing that he was running out of time, he picked up the mobile and called his friend. “Hi Rajiv. Can you do me a favor? Can you pay the Institute fees for me along with your payment? You know I am traveling and have little time to attend to this”. He could take such liberties with Rajiv who had been his buddy right from the school days – in fact both had studied together for their professional qualification as well.
With the call through, Rahul, quickly made an online payment for the mobile bill and then opened the cover that had initially caught his attention; the one which read “Free credit Card.” He already had a card but thought another would be of help especially when he had to make purchases for the wedding. The letter read that he was being offered a free card as his credit standing with his previous card was outstanding. He smiled. Had the grammar gone a shade wrong the letter might have meant 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 a few innocuous details like date of birth, parents name etc. He did that and placed it in the self-addressed envelope and decided to courier it the first thing next morning.
The week passed by rather hectically 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 is due any time now”.
The training was great. London was a great place for sight seeing as well. But Rahul was happy to be back to India. After all, it was familiar terrain compared to London! During 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 card due? Anyway he would soon find out. On landing at Chennai he was delighted to see his parents waiting to receive him at the airport. The warmth of their affection moved him.
Once back home he enquired “Did you pay for my credit card due?” 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 out with the call-centre girl that he was out of India and had not given any such request. The lady was of no great help and he decided to take up the issue directly with the bank. The jet lag notwithstanding, 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 must have happened. “Clearly somebody has used your information to notify that your original card is lost and has obtained a duplicate card with a change of address. Ask the company to block the card attached to your account. Stat. And lodge a complaint with the police. Again stat.” Rahul met the customer service cell officer, proved 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.