The infinite ease of internet banking has made it a great hit among urban customers. But if one of them loses money in an internet banking fraud and if the bank does not reimburse the victim, the Banking Ombudsman too could well wash his hands of it.

The Maharashtra State Banking Ombudsman has refused to intervene in a dispute between a Kolhapur-based businessman, R. Unnithan, and his bank claiming that the case involves ‘elaborate documentary and oral evidence.’

Unnithan’s net banking account was hacked and an amount of Rs.9.65 lakh was withdrawn in 24 transactions across the country between April 12 and 13, 2012.

After waiting for the bank to reimburse him, Unnithan sought the Ombudsman’s help on May 23, 2013. The complaint was rejected after seven months under 13 (c) of the Banking Ombudsman Scheme which states that “Banking Ombudsman may reject a complaint at any stage if it appears to him that the complaint made is requiring consideration of elaborate documentary and oral evidence and the proceedings before the Banking Ombudsman are not appropriate for adjudication of such complaint”.

Now, Unnithan’s only hope is that the police would get the fraudsters to return the money when they get caught. While, a police probe into net banking frauds does not always guarantee the stolen money being returned, the Ombudsman’s offices across the country seem to be wary of resolving banking disputes involving cyber crimes. A spokesperson for the Banking Ombudsman’ office in Thiruvananthapuram told The Hindu that, “the Ombudsman has limited powers. The scheme does not envisage resolving complaints involving police cases and cyber crime.”

Bankers insist that they cannot be held responsible for net banking frauds as most of them happen due to customers’ negligence. “Banks take all precautions and advise the customers too about the risks. But if customers are not careful and do net banking from cyber cafes, they run the risk of losing money,’’ said Union Bank of India’s K.R. Jayaprakash, Lead Bank manager for Ernakulam district. With banks blaming net banking frauds on customers, the Ombudsman too has left the customer in the lurch.

The Banking Ombudsman scheme, formulated by the Reserve Bank of India, is primarily intended to redress the grievances of customers of banks in the country. It was amended in 2009 to include complaints regarding internet banking in view of the increased volume of operations through the net.

But Unnithan was told by the Ombudsman that the “forum is not an investigative forum and the issue raised by you is complicated in nature requiring consideration of elaborate oral and documentary evidences.” Whether this rule could be applied to all banking transaction cases involving cyber crime is a moot question. More importantly, majority of complaints on net banking would be related to cyber crime. Money could be debited and credited through internet at the click of a mouse, but once it is lost, it could be lost forever.

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