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Updated: May 19, 2013 13:22 IST

Savings of a lifetime, gone in a flash

Shubhomoy Sikdar
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Kanwar Singh Rawat. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma
Kanwar Singh Rawat. Photo:Sushil Kumar Verma

In an incident that exposes the vulnerability of the elderly and the need for a better transaction monitoring mechanism by banks for deals involving their accounts, an 81-year-old in Rohini lost all his savings when he was tricked by a young man who exchanged his bank ATM card with a defunct one and also managed to make the victim share his password with him.

When Kanwar Singh Rawat, like every month, went to an ATM in the first week of April to check the status of his monthly pension, he was in for a shock. The card he inserted in the machine was someone else’s. But there was worse news awaiting him at the bank.

About Rs.3 lakh that Mr. Rawat had saved since his retirement in 1991 had been withdrawn using the ATM card that someone had exchanged with a defunct one a month ago. It did not take the senior citizen, who hardly goes to withdraw money more than once a month, any time to recall what had happened at another ATM chamber a month ago.

“The last time I had gone to the ATM was on March 1 and was waiting in queue to enter the chamber. I saw a young man taking an unusually long time. I requested him to come out, but then he called me inside and told me that there was some problem with his card due to which he was unable to withdraw cash and that he would try again once I was done with my transaction,” said the octogenarian.

“As I inserted my card into the machine, the man said I had done so incorrectly and asked me to punch my PIN number again, which I did. Soon, two more men entered the chamber. In panic, I didn’t realise my card had been switched and that the person had seen me punching my ATM pin code. As the withdrawal was successful, I had no reasons to be suspicious and returned home. Since I did not feel the need to go to the bank till the beginning of the next month, I never took out the card from my wallet. When I finally did go to the ATM, it was perhaps a bit too late,” a palpably sad Mr. Rawat said.

After discovering the fraud, Mr. Rawat went to his bank’s branch at Delhi Gate and got his pass book updated. He found that all the money had been withdrawn between March 1, the day the ATM card was switched, and March 14. He lodged a complaint on April 2 and a case was registered a few days later.

One of the major breakthroughs the police have achieved in the case is identifying the suspect with the help of CCTV footages gathered from the various ATMs. While this might ensure punitive action against the person (s) involved, the real worry for Mr. Rawat remains recovery of his money, for which the bank claims no liability.

This raises questions about whether banks have any mechanism to detect “suspicious transactions” and alert their customers. Though a huge amount — Rs.3 lakh — was withdrawn from the senior citizen’s account within a month, the bank failed to view it as suspicious. And although Mr. Rawat had not subscribed to SMS alerts, his contact details, including mobile number, were with the bank which could have been used to inform him about the frequent transactions.

More than his own bank, Mr. Rawat has complains about the security measures at the ATM machine where his ATM card was stolen. “There was no security guard present. Had there been one, he would have ensured that only one person was inside the chamber and stopped others from entering it while I was carrying out my transaction,” he said.

Bank officials admit that while awareness campaigns are taken up periodically, there are hardly any campaigns specifically targeted at old people. “However, whenever senior citizens visit our branches, we brief them about the threats they may encounter and other modes of offline fraud as very few of them use online banking,” said an officer.

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