There are many middlemen who meticulously study bank rules, to take advantage of the ignorance of depositors. How to stay clear of them?
You would have read the report last week that Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has slapped a penalty of Rs1.5 crore each on Bank of Maharashtra, Dena Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce for violating know-your-customer (KYC) norms while opening bogus accounts for a private organisation and eight other public sector banks were also warned to adhere to these norms. (Please read: RBI slaps Rs.4.5 crore penalty on Bank of Maharashtra, Dena Bank and OBC
The RBI, however, has not given the full details of the frauds perpetrated on these banks that necessitated the investigations into the failure of banks to comply with the KYC norms as stated in their press release. It is from the media reports that we can link the frauds committed in these banks during 2014 and the penalties imposed on them now. If only the RBI had given the modus operandi of these frauds it would have certainly helped the public to be wary of such traps laid out by unscrupulous people at least in future.
What is the modus operandi of these frauds?
RBI has permitted banks to offer differential interest rates on large value deposits and most of the banks, depending upon their funds requirements, quote interest rates for bulk deposits on day-to-day basis, which are not publicised and not known to the ordinary depositors. There are several middlemen who meticulously study the banks’ rules and regulations, take advantage of the ignorance of depositors by offering higher interest rates and all types of baits to the potential depositors to lure them into their trap. They, therefore, contact cash rich corporates, trusts and high net worth individuals (HNIs). and entice them with tempting offers to place their surplus funds with the banks with which they have developed a rapport. Some even tempt these ultra-rich depositors with kickbacks to win them over to part with their money according to their wishes. (Kick back is a slang to mean an illicit cash payment made to someone in return for facilitating a transaction).
What are RBI’s observations?
RBI in their press release of 29 April 2015, had explained the alleged fraud as under.
“On the basis of a complaint received by the Reserve Bank from a private organisation, a scrutiny of fixed accounts opened in its name in Mumbai based branches of certain public sector banks were undertaken in July 2014. With more complaints and involvement of other banks coming to light, a wider thematic review was conducted and in all 12 branches of 11 Public Sector Banks were covered. The scrutiny/thematic review looked into the modus operandi of the alleged frauds involving accounts of certain organisations in these banks, deficiencies / irregularities while opening Fixed Deposits (FD) and extending Overdraft (OD) facility there against. Besides the effectiveness of systems and processes in place pertaining to implementation of KYC norms / AML standards in respect of these accounts was also looked into.”
How these frauds were committed?
Hindu Business Line of 28 August 2014 had reported as under:
“The Economic Offences Wing (EOW) of the Mumbai Police has registered nine first information reports (FIRs) against 10 people accused in the loans against fixed deposits scam. The accused, who are part of a syndicate, opened overdraft (loan) accounts in the names of existing fixed deposit holders and siphoned off Rs237.58 crore from various bank branches across the city, said the Deputy Commissioner of Police (EOW).
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is already probing a similar scam in the country’s financial capital, wherein FDs aggregating Rs436 crore were misappropriated from Dena Bank and Oriental Bank of Commerce.
Explaining the modus operandi of the overdraft-against-FD scam, a senior public sector bank official said some of the accused would approach cash-rich entities asking them to place FDs with bank branches. Since the accused acted on behalf of the entities, they had access to all the KYC (Know-Your-Customer) documents, including resolutions passed by trusts for placing deposits, and signatures on application forms required for the opening of FDs.
Believing the accused to be representatives of the customers, the bank officials would hand over the FD receipts to them. The accused would retain the original receipts and give the customers phoney FD receipts. The possession of the original FD receipts and access to KYC documents made it easy for the accused to perpetrate the fraud, the banker said.”
Putting the media report and the RBI press release together, it is possible to presume that the penalty imposed by RBI might be in respect of the fraudulent transactions that were reported in the media in August 2014.
In short, the fraudsters, winning over the depositors by offering higher rates of interest, got large funds transferred to the bank of their choice, where they got the fixed deposit receipts issued in the name of the depositors. But they handed over only facsimile of these receipts to the depositors who did not suspect any foul play, as the deposit receipts were cleverly duplicated through the modern printers that produce colour prints which closely resemble the originals.
The fraudsters, holding original receipts, got them pledged as security for the loan or overdraft with the same branch of the bank by forging the signatures of depositors in all documents required by the branch. Once the loans were granted, they got the money transferred through NEFT/RTGS to their personal account by forging all documents sought by the banks. This happened because the depositors trusted them and gave all the KYC documents to them to be handed over to the bank, which made forgery of documents easy for the fraudsters. And the banks too possibly placed too much reliance on these middlemen who got them the deposits, and did not contact the depositors to verify the genuineness of the request for loan against these deposits.
But it is not known as to whether any amount was recovered from the fraudsters and who finally had to bear the burden of loss caused by these fraudulent transactions.
What lessons to learn from these frauds?
First and foremost, it is neither desirable nor necessary for us to entertain any middlemen or broker to handle our banking transactions, as it is difficult to know their credentials as well as their intentions. Moreover, do not get carried away by their smooth talk, which, more often than not, may be a calculated move to con us rather than help us. For clarification of any doubts, bank staff is generally helpful, but if you are not satisfied, you can meet the Branch Manager, who normally cooperates in responding to your queries, particularly when you place deposits with the branch.
Secondly, though banks are allowed to give differential interest rates for large value bulk deposits, RBI has totally forbidden banks from giving any commission to middlemen for securing deposits. So any offer of cash incentive for placing the deposit with any particular bank is fraught with risk and should not be relied upon, even if the offer comes from a professional, whose credentials cannot be verified.
Lastly, we should hand over the KYC documents to our bank personally as far as possible to ensure that they are not misused by any intermediary. If it is not possible to personally visit the branch, we should send the self attested copies of these documents through registered post to the bank to make sure that it does not get into wrong hands.
The purpose of taking these precautions is twofold. First it ensures peace of mind for us. Secondly, even after taking these precautions if a fraud happens in our account, we can hold the bank squarely responsible for the loss caused by the fraud, as it would happen due to the negligence of the bank or the connivance of bank staff and it is easy to put the entire onus on the bank for any loss caused.
(The author is a financial analyst and writes for Moneylife under a pen name ‘Gurpur’.)