Fraudsters, Spammers Are Having a Free Ride as TRAI Says it Has No Information about Them
Notorious fraudsters, telemarketers and spammers are continuing to have a good time and are cheating and harassing mobile subscribers across India.
 
The reason? The sector regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) as well companies whose name is being misused by fraudsters are least interested. 
 
In fact, after takings its sweet time, TRAI finally told me under the Right to Information (RTI) that it does not have a record of any telemarketer in India.
 
After multiple follow-ups and RTIs, last month, TRAI told me, "As per the new regulations, the Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018 (6 of 2018), telecom service providers are fully responsible for registration of all entities of unsolicited commercial communication (UCC) ecosystem, including telemarketers. The information relating to names of telemarketers, headers assigned etc. is available with the respective service provider. TRAI is having no further information in this regard to provide."
 
 
The reply from TRAI is a violation of the RTI Act. Especially, as per Section 2(f) of the Act "information means any material in any form, including records, documents, memos, e-mails, opinions, advices, press releases, circulars, orders, logbooks, contracts, reports, papers, samples, models, data material held in any electronic form and information relating to any private body which can be accessed by a public authority under any other law for the time being in force."
 
Instead of obtaining information from mobile operators and supplying the same to me under the RTI, the telecom regulator had once against displayed how much it honours transparency and governance.
 
After failing to get any reprieve from repeated calls and SMSs from telemarketers, on 26 August 2019 I filed an application under the RTI Act to TRAI. I had asked following details...
 
1. Names of all telemarketers and header/s assigned to them for promotional message in XY-NZZZZZ format, where N is the serial number (1-7) of partially blocked category, indicating the nature of product/ services being promoted. ZZZZZ indicates five digits allocated to particular telemarketer by an access provider. 
 
2. Names of all telemarketers and header/s assigned to them for transactional message XY-ZZZZZZ where X stands for the code allotted to the access provider, Y stands for the service area, ZZZZZZ indicates six alphabets for company or organization sending transactional SMS.
 
On the same day, I filed other RTI application with the TRAI central public information officer (CPIO) seeking the following information...
 
1. Copy of the list of telemarketers against whom violations have been reported since FY2016-17, FY2017-18, FY2018-19, and FY2019-20 (as on 31 July 2019)
 
2. Name of telemarketers against whom violations have been reported and who have paid additional security deposit for each violation since FY2016-17, FY2017-18, FY2018-19, and
FY2019-20 (as on 31 July 2019)
 
3. Copy of the list of telemarketers who have been blacklisted along with the reason for such action since FY2016-17, FY2017-18, FY2018-19, and FY2019-20 (as on 31 July 2019). 
 
However, the CPIO gave me a completely vague answer on my first application. Instead of sharing information (header assigned to telemarketers), S K Dutta, CPIO of TRAI told me, "New Regulation Framework Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018 (6 of 2018) available on web link https://main.trai.gov.in/release-publication/regulation." 
 
 
For my second query, the same CPIO stated, "As per new Regulation Framework Telecom Commercial Communications Customer Preference Regulations, 2018 (6 of 2018) available on web link, https://main.trai.gov.in/release-publication/regulation, TRAI has discontinued the telemarketer registration. Therefore, these is no data related to telemarketers available with TRAI."
 
For the second query, I had asked for data for four financial years, FY2016-17, FY2017-18, FY2018-19, and FY2019-20. Even considering that the TRAI had discontinued telemarketer registration after the new regulation, the CPIO was mandated to provide information prior to this. However, he did not provide the requested information. 
 
For my first query, since the same CPIO gave me a vague response, I filed first appeal. SK Mishra, principal advisor (F&EA) and first appellate authority (FAA) of TRAI in his ruling on 5 November 2019, stated, “Further, it is seen that applicant is not satisfied with reply of CPIO, TRAI dated 17 September 2019. However, CPIO has now forwarded additional information with reference to this appeal. CPIO may share the additional information with the appellant.”
 
 
The CPIO, however, never provided any information. Then on 3 January 2020, I sent an email to Mr Mishra, the FAA, informing him that even after 60 days, the CPIO, TRAI has not complied with the FAA order and has NOT provided any information regarding my RTI application dated 26 August 2019. 
 
"I urge you to direct the CPIO, TRAI to immediately provide me with the requisite information within maximum seven days. In case the CPIO, TRAI does not comply with your order and furnish the requisite information, I request you to initiate stern action against the CPIO, TRAI for disobeying the FAA order," I had said in the email, which was also copied to the secretary of TRAI.
 
This email also failed to evoke any response from Mr Mishra or the secretary of TRAI. I then filed another RTI to Aravind Pandey, CPIO of the department of telecom (DoT). In my RTI application, I sought the following information...
 
"I would like to know,
 
1. Date and time when the above-mentioned email was received at the office of Shri SK Mishra.
 
2. Copy of the file, along with file notings on the above mentioned email.
 
3. Copy of action taken report on the above mentioned email. If no action is taken, then kindly state so.
 
Let me reiterate that despite direction from the FAA on 5 November 2019, till date the CPIO of TRAI has not supplied me with the requisite information as per the RTI Act."
 
However, Mr Pandey, the CPIO, transferred my RTI application to other CPIO in the office of the advisor, Maharashtra LSA at Pune, who promptly transferred it to other PIO. 
 
Finally, on 16 March 2020, Mr Dutta, the CPIO of TRAI replied to my RTI filed on 6 March 2020 that TRAI does not have the information on telemarketers. However, there still is no response on information sought by me on the three queries. 
 
Coming back to how TRAI, the regulator treats telecom subscribers, unlike other regulators like the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) or Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), the telecom regulator seems totally unconcerned about customer issues and has no formal mechanism for grievance redress or filing complaints.
 
TRAI does not take any cognizance of individual complaints from telecom subscribers. The TRAI portal under its telecom consumer complaints monitoring system, says, “TRAI Act, 1997 does not envisage handling of individual consumer complaints by TRAI. Consumers are advised to take up their complaints with their respective service providers. Complaints, if any, received in TRAI are forwarded to the service providers. No follow up action is taken by TRAI on individual complaint(s).”
 
No prizes for guessing how complaints are treated when the regulator is not responsible for addressing consumers’ grievances. A majority of complaints are discarded without much action or on flimsy grounds, especially those against telemarketers or the telecom service providers. 
 
Now let us see, how entities whose name is used or misused by fraudsters treat the complaints. You may have noted in the past several months that many mobile users are receiving messages for know-your-customer (KYC) of Paytm. 
 
 
If you think, Paytm would have acted against the fraudsters behind this message, you are in for a big surprise. These fraudsters are much smarter and act much faster than either Paytm or any other entity .
 
Here is the same message with a different header and other mobile number…
 
 
As per the norms, when any subscriber receives a UCC or unwanted SMS or call, he or she is supposed to file a complaint on 1909 through SMS. But, believe me, sending any complaint to 1909 is useless, except against any number. When the UCC sender is using a mobile number, then there may be action taken by the operator. However, when it is a header assigned by the operator (earlier TRAI used to do that), there simply is ZERO action. 
 
The reason? All telemarketers, whether genuine or fraud, are paid customers of mobile operators. When there is not much money to be made from end-users due to cut-throat competition, do you think any telecom operator would even take any action against these paid telemarketers? 
 
The other issue is the first two letters used in the header provide information on the telco and its service area. For example, AK, means Airtel Kolkata, VM means Vodafone Mumbai and so on. Although there are very few active telcos, there are many who cease to exists but are still doing this telemarketing business. 
 
This exactly is what I have been trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to highlight to the telecom regulator TRAI, DoT, and the communications minister. 
 
Without proper implementation and supervision, the national do not call (NDNC) registry has been turned into a joke by all these authorities. All telemarketers are mandated to do a pre-check before shooting any communication so that all subscribers who had registered as Zero DNC (no UCC) or selective UCC, would be filtered out. But it hardly happens. 
 
However, when the details of all telemarketers are out in the public domain, subscribers may file complaints against them. Some users who are cheated or defrauded may even file criminal cases against the fraud telemarketers. 
 
Comments
ROSHAN SHAHANI
2 years ago
Bravo, Yogesh Sapkale et al at ML - you have taken up the most needed fight against telemarketers and the venal indifference of TRAI.
smanish.shah
2 years ago
Please take up this issue with Prime Minister's office highlighting the fact that even Ministry is not bothered even as gullible public are being cheated in these very difficult times...another alternative is to file a PIL in Supreme court to intervene and issue directions to prevent public being cheated......
prembajaj
2 years ago
The primary issue here is of privacy. Did one sign up for a voice/data service to be shared for junk marketing? or for private calls for family/leisure, and importantly for business. TRAI's primary failure to protect first the interests of subscribers (post or prepaid) and intended failure to maintain a record of mis-developments clearly reflects of a corruptive bureaucracy. Every one of such agencies need to be purged, and replaced with people of integrity. Also, telcos, must accept responsibility for permitting such activity, given the bulk use, and from unknown / unregistered IMEIs !!
m.prabhu.shankar
2 years ago
The basic problem in our country now across different areas is being repeatedly highlighted by Sucheta Dalal ji from MoneyLife. Regulators are failing and no accountability from their end. If regulators fail then daylight robbery is bound to happen in every sector. Current Central Government is the most incompetent, corrupt and inefficient government that this nation has seen in its history and hence these problems are not a surprise.
aslam.anjumara1
2 years ago
I used to report through TRAI DND App regarding unsolicited SMSs or calls but always received almost the same reply that no SMS/call record found. That was a very useless App and TRAI never helped. What is the use of DND I can not understand. Shame on TRAI.
hamungel
2 years ago
Keep up the good work, Shri Sapkale. Some day TRAI will come out of its self-imposed coma.
raoms12
2 years ago
Appreciate your highlighting this issue
ASHWIN MEHTA
2 years ago
Even the reputed company's officials are not bothered about these tele-marketers and are not interested to take any action against them. 3 years back, I contacted Tata AIG life insurance co, officials, as the telemarketer was luring me to get major chunk back in my account from the commission of the agent's, as many agents are well known about type of services they provided to their customers. I was having a policy wherein I was paying a premium of Rs.50,000/- P.A. Now after 4 years, the telemarketer promises to get me back Rs.1,62,00/- (From a total of Rs.2,00,000/- I paid over 4 years.!!!!). As a educated person, I can understand, that if the agent himself is getting Rs.1,62,000/- as his commission, whats the company is getting to provide me a cover of ten times, the premium amount.??? Clearly some fraudster is luring me. I even went to an extent to open a separate bank A/c with Rs.50,000/- deposit(So after 1 year, the fraudster can transfer the agent's chunk to my a/c etc.).I called their man to collect my documents like PAN Card/Aadhar card.Tried to get behind the peoples involved in this racket.Got their mobile numbers, and then contacted TATA AIG and narrated them the entire story. But it seemed they were not intersted in this. They simply advise me, to be ALERT. I even demanded to know, how my details regarding Name and Policy number, premium amount etc... reached to such people, but there was no satisfactory / convincing reply from them. So Be alert and at the most tell others (By telling your experience) not to fall prey to such frausdster. People sitting in high positions are not going to be of any help to a common man.
ganesanjaicare
2 years ago
now lot of email and automatic pop ups and tv advt for playing MPL and play rummy.regulators and governments are not for common man.request moneylife to take up this issue with govt .now it is very rampant.
adityag
2 years ago
Yogesh, I get spam all the time! Unfortunately, nothing has been done about it. Instead, I follow a simple rule: I just ignore calls from unknown numbers. Also, iPhones has this feature that automatically silences calls from numbers that aren't in the phone book, which is pretty cool. Sometimes, I get calls from personal numbers too and ignore them as well. It's only when I get called multiple times from the same number, I'll have a friend check up on Truecaller and trace it.

Yes, NDNC has been a disaster. TRAI hasn't been proactive on this, sadly.

IMHO, the best way to combat this menace is to develop AI-based solutions which can be implemented by consumers or embeded by mobile phone manufacturers. I think in 2-3 years we'll get there and we won't have to rely on regulators...hopefully(!).
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