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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Axis Bank ATM Fraud-You could be next victim!

June 20th 2016 Update:
The issue has been resolved. I have received an email from ICICI bank stating that Axis bank has accepted the error. I don't know how they conducted the investigation or how they plan to prevent this in feature, but since my money is back, they are not bound to explain me all that. I am happy to know that a strong and reliable process exists to handle this kind of disputes.

I consider this dispute resolved, but advise exercising adequate caution while using ATMs - Shrinidhi

----------Original Post -----------------------------------

 I have occasionally heard about ATM frauds- less cash coming out or worse no cash coming out at all. But my faith in banking system was intact as I knew there is a reconciliation mechanism which detects if cash left in ATM is more that what it was supposed to be and could be adjusted against customers who got less money and complained about it. Over past 15 years since I got a ATM card, I have not had any issue with cash withdrawals, so I was indifferent to the pain of people who had issues with ATM cash withdrawal. Yesterday, I ended up on the receiving side for what appears to be a carefully planted fraud by ATM cash loaders of Axis Bank.

13th June, 6.50 PM: On my way home, I stopped by at Axis Bank ATM in Medavakkam, Chennai. (Photo below, taken next day morning). I used my ICICI Bank issued Debit card to withdraw Rs 10000 (I wanted more as I had to buy Forex for my next trip, but ATM imposed a limit of Rs 10000). Transaction seemed to go through and cash came out. ATMs dispel all 500 Rs notes together and all 100 Rs notes together- they are never randomly mixed. As I counted, I noticed one Rs 100 note in between 18 other 500 Rs notes and 5 Rs 100 notes. This adds up only to Rs 9600 and NOT the Rs 10000 I had wanted. Clearly the cash loaders planted a Rs 100 note in Rs 500 tray (and pocketed the balance).
The Villain of my story- Culprit ATM than gave Rs 100 note instead of Rs 500
ATM had no security guard, No transactions slip came out (most ATMs will be out of paper). Though I detected the shortfall in ATM itself, there was no mechanism to raise a concern. Branch is also not nearby and it was not branch open hours to visit. Thus I had to leave the ATM and head home, hoping that our banking industry will have some mechanism to address this kind of concerns.

I put a tweet to Axis Bank, who promptly replied with customer care email and asked me to send details. I sent all the details and an hour later, I promptly got a reply from Axis bank stating that I should take up the issue with card issuing bank, which is ICICI in this case. It was Axis Bank's ATM and their cash loaders, so clearly Axis Bank has its side of investigation to do. 
Next I logged into my ICICI bank account to log a complaint. When I went to relevant section, it asked for all details, including ATM ID and transaction number. Since no transaction slip came out, I didn’t have those details. I checked SMS and email alert sent by ICICI Bank immediately after withdrawal. Unfortunately the email and SMS alert also had no details of ATM, Transaction ID. It only stated NFS/CASH WDL/13-06-16. How hard it is to include this vital information in the email alert?
Email Alert doesn't have transaction ID and ATM ID required to file complaint
If you have said NO for transaction slip or there was no paper to print it, then you can't file complaint online
I tried to log a complaint anyway with a dummy number, but got a strange message stating below. But it was not true- my account was debited Rs 10000 and there is no credit back of Rs 400 difference.

I asked ICICI bank twitter handle for an Email ID to which I can send the details. They never cared to reply on time, but replied later next day.

I called ICICI bank phone banking and have logged a complaint. Below is what the phone banking officer said.
Sir, since you’re a privileged customer of ICICI Bank, we will refund the disputed amount within 1 working day. However, after the investigation is complete, if it is decided that transaction was successful without any fault, this Rs 400 will be taken back from your account

So at this moment, I have an assurance that ICICI Bank will investigate this issue, but final outcome is still uncertain. I have urged phone banking office to note that I got a Rs 100 note in between other Rs 500 notes. Hopefully they will factor this and investigate accordingly, not just do a customary check of no of notes dispensed as per machine stats and conclude everything is fine. I will keep you posted.

Meanwhile, some lessons learnt and FAQs that can help you to avoid being in same situation

Why this happened?
Either due to negligence or with a deliberate attempt to pocket some money, cash loaders have put Rs 100 note in Rs 500 tray, making the ATM machine believe it is dispensing Rs 500 while in reality it gave only Rs 100

Will I be safe if I don’t use AXIS Bank ATM?
Not necessarily. Cash loading is outsourced to private agencies. Same agency might be serving several banks. If some cash loader has mastered the art of cheating ATMs, they can try it on any ATM.

What precautions we can take to avoid being scammed at the ATMs?
-          Where possible use online/credit/debit cards/cheque instead of cash payment. Those are way easier to track and rectify.
-          Use ATM of the bank which issued the card, as much as possible. Half the headache is eliminated
-          If you are withdrawing small amount, withdraw in multiples of 100- like Rs 400 at a time. Probability of someone loading Rs 10 note in Rs 100 tray of the ATM machine is near zero, so you will be safe.
-          If you are withdrawing huge amount, it might be safer to visit the branch and withdraw instead of ATM. If not possible, take out your phone, make a video of the entire process, and count the cash on video as soon as it comes out. If it is less, then you have good evidence. At the minimum you will have viral video for your youtube account. If all’s fine you can delete the video.
-          If you forgot to make video and got less cash, show it immediately to the CCTV camera in the ATM and express your frustration. Will sever as proof later.
-          Never say No to the transaction slip.
-          ATMs next to a branch are relatively safer as there will always be someone to approach/complain in case of issues

What to do if ATM dispensed less cash? (or more)
Report to Card issuing bank through internet banking or phone banking. They will investigate the matter.

Type 1: ATM dispensed less no of notes: If there is a counting problem and ATM dispensed say 9 notes instead of 10, bank will find out that there is one extra note in the cash tray. They can map it to the dispute you’ve raised and can give you the refund.

Type 2: Rs 100 note coming out in between Rs 500- I am not sure how this can be tracked and rectified. As far as I know, ATM machines can count the notes, but don’t think they measure the dimension or read a note to ensure it is what it is supposed to be. If ATM Cash loader has deliberately loaded a piece of paper or lesser denomination note, machine doesn’t have a mechanism to identify and remove them. In my case ATM thought it is dispensing Rs 500 note and counted total accordingly, while in reality loader had placed Rs 100 note instead of Rs 500, making me poorer by Rs 400. Need to see if how this can be tracked and resolved. ATMs may have CCTV but will it focus on cash loading process (to check if one has put Rs 100 note instead of 500)- I am not sure.

With this experience, I am going to be way more careful with cash withdrawals from now on.

What Banks can do to avoid this?
Unless this is an accidental mistake, my guess is cash loading guy is trying to pocket some extra cash. He is probably counting on 3 things-
1) Customers fail to count the cash
2) If they count and find the amount less, they may not have time to raise a complaint
3) Even if they raise a complaint, bank officials will NOT be able to prove the fraud and trace it back to him.
Notice Rs 100 note in between the Rs 500 notes
Whoever he is, he’s not been lucky on first two part, but last thing is not in my control. Will the Axis Bank officials pursue this seriously? Will they check all other ATMs loaded by same person to check if has tried similar trick elsewhere? Or will they claim nothing is at fault?

We should know in a few days. If Bank authorities have no way to identify that Rs 100 note went out from Rs 500 tray in the automated teller machine, they might reject my claim and the staff who loaded the tray would feel invincible and will try it more often at more ATMs, cheating more people of their money and shaking the foundation of banking system- Trust.

Even if it is an accidental mistake, it is not acceptable. Banking transactions should never rely on luck and should be 100% fool proof.
  • It should be relatively easier to add sensors in ATM machine that can check note dimensions before dispensing. If any note is smaller or larger than the designated note, such notes should not be dispensed.
  • Cash loading process should be captured clearly in CCTV to detect any malpractice (such as replacing a Rs 500 note with Rs 100)
  • Perform random audit of cash loaded and if any foul play is detected imprison the loader and fire the cash loading agency
15th June 2016 Updates:
1. More than 1000 people have read this post within 24 hours of its posting and it is honored with Top Post of the day at Indiblogger
Indian Bloggers
2. Got one call from ICICI team acknowledging my complaint and telling me the same thing that was told earlier "They will credit the disputed amount but if the complaint is found invalid after investigation it will be reversed"

3. Rs 400 has been credited to my account as promised. Now I need to wait till completion of their investigation to know if I will have it permanently or it will be taken back

4. ICICI's Google Plus account has commented on this post promising quick action.

22 comments :

Sandeep Shande said...

Thanks for sharing Shrinidhi. Will be careful while transacting at the ATMs. As you mentioned, it's better to deal with plastic money and avoid these kind of issues with cash.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Sure Sandeep. Thanks.

satish said...

Real eye opener.I hardy count the cash dispensed by ATMs.Hence forth shall be carefull.

satish said...

Real eye opener.I hardy count the cash dispensed by ATMs.Hence forth shall be carefull.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@SAtish- Do count

Indrani said...

What an weird experience!
Your experience is an eye opener! Thanks for sharing!

Ravish Mani said...

Very sad. Hope the matter will be resolved soon. I guess if the loaded 100 Rs notes in 500 Rs block, then the bank would have received similar complaints from other customers also. I think it supports your case. Let's see what will come out. Please keep us informed.

Bushra Muzaffar said...

Shocking and sad! The no paper slip bcause the machine ran out of paper is so common at many ATMs. Thanks for pointing it out how important it is to keep this slip for any communication with bank. Hopefully the issue would be sorted out soon. You have a nice trip, Srinidhi!

UK Fashionablefoods said...

Shocking..!!

SelfDrive Trips said...

Very sad!!! Thanks for sharing Shrinidhi.

Nikhil N said...

Hi Shrinidi,
Its unfortunate to see such kind of problem caused to the end user. Well banks need to make more foolproof systems and you have mentioned the probable solutions for it as well. Hope you get the refund and permanent solution to this problem. Eye opener indeed! Thanks for sharing.

ICICI Bank Cares said...

Hi SHRINIDHI HANDE, we regret the inconvenience caused to you. We are keen to assist you. Our officials will contact you shortly and help resolve your concern.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@ICICI Bank Cares
Appreciate your writing a comment on this post. I have logged a complaint via phone banking and I hope an investigation is underway. Will be curious to know the outcome of this investigation and steps taken to avoid repetition of such incidents

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Nikhil
Thanks. Will keep everyone posted.

@Self Drive Tips-No problem

@UK F.. Happens.. It is India

@Bushra- Thanks. You noted the trip part among all these- great!

@Ravish: True. Depends on how greedy the loader was- if he had done same trick in multiple ATMs definetly there would have been more such complaints. If he has just started experimenting or if others didn't count their cash, then there might not be much complaints

@Indrani- Thanks

The wild said...

I dont know about ICICI ,all nationalized banks have somebody called as regional managers who are responsible for a given region.

I suggest you try and bring it to their attention and also mark a copy to the police commissioner.I am sure the modus operandi is to try and get away with a relatively smaller crime.

Nisha said...

Really a sad state of affairs. It was an eye opener for me. A first.

I always count my money if it's upto 5K but now on I'll try to count always. But still we do not know what will really help us if we are in a similar situation.

Thanks for sharing Shrinidhi. Hope the issue gets resolved soon.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@nisha

Thanks, will keep posted. There is a process to deal with such issues, but is it foolproof enough is something we'll know once the investigation completes

#The Wild
I have to value my time and effort also. If I have to spend a day going to bank, police commissioner's office etc it is not going to be worth it. Assume this will be taken care under the investigation that bank has promised me on their side

G. RAMANKUTTYTY NAIR said...

Thanks a lot, Mr. Sreenidhi Hande,
The exhaustive comments from you would remain an eye-opener for many...! In fact, as usual, we depend on Machines, (better than humans)while thinking of cash at odd hours, but this type of 'error' would not be anticipated by many....Thanks a lot. "Devaru nimage Olleythu maadali"

Destination Infinity said...

Thanks for this post. I did not count or see what notes I receive from an ATM. It used to be blind trust on the ATM machine. But from now on, I will make sure to count my cash.

Destination Infinity

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@DI: Do count... it is important as at times ATM may dispense a note less or of a wrong denomination

@G Raman- thanks for your comments.

@All: No updates from the bank today.

Tomichan Matheikal said...

Machines are also turning deceptive!

Shrinidhi Hande said...

or the people responsible for loading these machines!