How HDFC Bank may discretely charge you for new ‘services’ and how you can avoid it

You are at a traffic signal in Mumbai, sitting in your car. Your car is not particularly dirty, but not spick and span either. But you don’t care because the windscreen is clear enough for you to drive safely. You are just biding your time at the signal, till the green light turns on.

Suddenly a service provider turns up: a boy with a cloth comes and starts cleaning your windshield. With a few quick strokes he clears off some of the dust (which didn’t really bother you). But, he has provided you services (which you didn’t ask for), so he comes to your window and asks for his charges.

Usually this is small change, and looking at the condition of the boy, you may be tempted to pay him for his “services”. But some people may altogether refuse to pay him, since there was no legal obligation to do so and since you never wanted the services. Now, imagine there was a legal obligation.

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That is sort of what HDFC Bank is trying on its customers. Calling it a “scam” may be a bit harsh but it certainly isn’t the most ethical way of earning money. Many on social media have realised that a “scheme” has been activated by HDFC bank which goes like this:

1. You get an email titled: “Welcome to HDFC Bank Preferred Banking Programme!”

2. You are assigned a “Virtual Relationship Manager” for “all your banking and investment needs”, and some charges for some facilities.

3. BUT, right at the bottom you have this small foot-note (You can see what the full email looks like, here):

You are doing your regular no-frills banking, suddenly the bank offers you some services which you never asked for, and asks you to pay a “nominal fee” for it. Just like the traffic signal routine. Except, this is a legally binding, recurring obligation, UNLESS you opt out. Users have noted that this upgrade was initially offered on a one year trial period, post which, these emails have come up. HDFC Bank’s scheme actually might have been operating for over a year, as this post on Reddit from a year ago suggests.

As this blog noted, this modus operandi is reminiscent of the VAS Fraud by Telcos, where a Telco would activate some Value Added Service (VAS) for a user, for example caller tune etc. The service would be free for one month, after which if the user did not deactivate it (which mostly never happened), the user would get billed for it.

So, you may say, whats the big deal, a customer can always opt out of the scheme right? Technically yes, but then for this, the customer has to see the email, read it in full, read the tiny portion where the charges are mentioned, opt-out and finally the opt-out mechanism should work! And at least some users are reporting that even the opt-out doesn’t work!

So what can you do if you’re a HDFC bank customer?

1. Check your email for any such email

2. Scroll down to the opt-out menu and follow the steps to opt-out

3. If that doesn’t work, you may consider firing off an email just to be sure you have informed the bank.

4. If you want to get all Krantikaari, then you may consider sending an email to RBI. A user has drafted a letter for public use.

5. Alert everyone you know about this.

The bank on its part has responded saying that they have been fully fair and transparent in their dealings since they have alerted the customer of the charges and also allowed him to move out of the scheme. You can read the full reply here.

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