How To Keep Your Money Safe in a Pandemic
Even as some of us, in states like Maharashtra, begin the fourth month in lock-down, the rest of the country seems determined to put COVID-19 behind it. This has two significant financial implications for all of us. First, several concessions offered during the lock-down have been rolled back from 1st July. So, it is business as usual. Although things are not yet normal, the minimum balance requirements as well as charges for ATM withdrawals, beyond a threshold, are back. Moreover, financial intermediaries are back to hustling investment opportunities that will fetch them the highest commission but may not be in your best interest. 
 
Meanwhile, the ordinary saver is battered and anxious about her health in times of COVID and the impact of the economic downturn on her own savings. This makes her a perfect target to hard-selling investment products. 
 
Savers’ fears are completely understandable. A string of high-profile failures of banks, finance companies, the debacle at Franklin Templeton and the manner in which Tier-1 bonds of Yes Bank were wiped out, have made people jittery. During the lock-down, many non-finance professionals have spent time devouring webinars offering investment advice to improve returns on their savings. Even Standard & Poor’s (S&P’s) poorly drafted headline in a press release led to a wrong interpretation about Axis Bank which was further magnified by social media chatter. 
 
What should a smart saver do in times like these? Think about Urvashi and follow a ‘take it easy policy’, as in the hit song that broke language barriers! Give yourself time to think, and rethink, before taking decisions because the first focus should be to keep your savings safe from people working overtime to make you part from your money. 
 
Online Transactions: On 19th April, I wrote “Beware of COVID Scams, Fraud, Profiteering and Corruption”. We saw this play out in a big way over the past two months. On 29th June, the media reported how Dr Sanjaya Baru was duped of Rs24,000 because he tried to buy liquor through an unknown website called ‘La Cave Wines and Spirits’. Since he was a former adviser to prime minister Manmohan Singh and a well-known editor, the police sprang into action and nabbed the culprits at Kaman town in Rajasthan. 
 
Moneylife Foundation has frequently warned that the simple rule about online shopping is to stick to large, well-known companies. Not every online company is an Amazon or Flipkart, even if it offers similar terms and promises quick delivery and returns. If you want to buy liquor online, there may be safer options like Nature’s Basket which used to be owned by the Godrej group and is now an RP-Sanjeev Goenka group company. 
 
It is important to remember that fraudsters are very well organised and not everyone gets the quick attention that Dr Baru did. In fact, the scale of phishing attacks can be so huge, that on 22nd June, the government issued public warnings about a ‘large-scale cyber attack’ that would use COVID-19 as a bait and an email ID that was spoofed to look like an official government email ([email protected]). While online shopping and payments are an amazing convenience in a lock-down, there is no alternative to being extremely vigilant.
 
Financial Products: The first worry people have is about the safety of their banks. Again, the bigger the bank, the safer it is, because it is more likely to be bailed out. Senior citizens and retirees are perturbed at the steady decline in interest on term deposits. At the same time, newer private banks are offering as much as 7% even on savings accounts (conditions attached). Should you risk it? The good news is that deposit insurance for banking deposits has been raised to Rs5 lakh. So you have some room for taking a risk and earning more. If your money is already in a safe place, don't move more than Rs5 lakh until things settle down and there is clarity on which way the economy is headed.
 
A big hustle in times of COVID is to sell COVID insurance. As Moneylife has pointed out, if you have a good health insurance, it already covers COVID. This is important to remember when a Yes Bank tempts you with a Rs25,000 COVID cover on opening a new bank account (only for those below 60 and only for the first year, but with a higher interest of 7.25% ). 
 
If you are really faced with COVID infection, a Rs25,000-insurance payout will not be a good substitute for a good health policy offering a cover of at least Rs5 lakh-Rs6 lakh. For those who have no insurance, it may make sense to buy one of the many COVID policies launched by the insurance industry; but pay attention to the waiting period and other conditions. 
 
This is also the time when savers are urged to move money from fixed deposits (FDs) and mutual funds (MFs). The Franklin fiasco has led to the realisation that ‘mutual funds sahi hai’ is just a slogan, not a guarantee on safety of principal or returns. So choosing the right MF schemes from the hundreds on offer needs expert advice or serious research. 
 
Similarly, enough fingers have been burnt in the past three years (DHFL, DS Kulkarni, the builder who boasted about his integrity but was raising deposits in multiple firms without regulatory clearance) by investing in bonds and debentures of companies. Here, again, there is value in sticking to the most reputed names or public sector entities. One used to advise savers to study credit ratings; but there is no sanctity to ratings anymore when rating agencies can drop debt instruments or companies from investment grade to default overnight, with absolutely no consequences to themselves. 
 
You cannot depend on the regulator to protect you. Grievance redress mechanisms rarely work because dubious companies know how to trap savers with hidden clauses or sign-offs. The only safety is in a flight to quality. Only four or five highly reputed housing finance companies and non-banking finance companies fit this category. Most often, higher returns are a red flag.
 
Way Forward 
What does one do when faced with a job loss or businesses shut–down, coupled with massive loans that are accumulating interest, when there is no income? The answer is to work at reducing liabilities and finding ways to boost income. 
 
This is easier said than done; many have, indeed, managed to change track, lower expectations and find ways to keep earning. We have heard of a jeweller who took to selling vegetables, a doctor couple has taken to distribution of COVID protective gear and people offering online tuitions. 
 
For those who have large outstanding loans, this may also be a time to look at cashing the gold you have squirreled away for a rainy day. Gold prices are at an all-time high and have breached the Rs50,000 mark (for 10gm). This may not be the right time to buy more, but to use it judiciously if you are in deep debt. 
 
Moneylife Foundation receives many queries from people looking to consolidate multiple loans (credit card outstanding, app loans, car loans, etc) and pay a single EMI (equated monthly instalment). But few lenders offer a bigger loan when the borrower is already struggling to pay. A significant reduction in outstanding may help persuade a lender and your gold can help tide over a crisis. But even distressed borrowers tend to forget this asset or remain emotionally attached to it; even worse, some compound their problem by opting for a gold loan instead of selling to reduce debt. Each person’s financial situation is different; but those who can, must cash in their gold reserves to reduce loans.
 
Finally, the real estate industry is putting out surveys to show that interest in buying a home has not dampened. Can this be true or is it just a sales pitch disguised as a survey? Only those in very secure jobs or who do not need a home loan should consider buying at this time. All others would be smart to wait until the economy looks better. 
 
All in all, the best action to safeguard your savings is to focus on reducing liability and playing safe. Now is not the time for risk-taking, especially for non-finance savvy persons.
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    COMMENTS

    Premkumar R

    1 month ago

    Sane advice; very interesting observation about home loans: "who do not need a home loan should consider buying at this time. All others would be smart to wait until the economy looks better. "

    hamungel

    1 month ago

    Excellent and Practical Advice.

    Ramesh Popat

    1 month ago

    proper asset allocation is important. good advise may help.
    diversification also useful. only bank fd is not right solution.
    risk is everywhere but we hv to earn much more than the
    actual inflation to prosper.

    sundar_ramang

    1 month ago

    Very useful article and well meaning practical advise from Sucheta Dalal

    m.prabhu.shankar

    1 month ago

    Excellent Article. Thanks a lot Sucheta ji.

    yerramr

    1 month ago

    A good cautionary note. It is difficult to choose options. Going safe would mean be content with what you get from banks - particularly, the safest now are only PSBs who offer the lowest rates on your savings for different tenors. If you want a higher return as senior citizen you should be prepared to park for 5 years. But senior citizens should have flexibility for, they know not how urgently they need liquidity. If you are 75+ even insurance may not help and even if provided, they provide at an unaffordable premium. Do not be greedy for higher return than what banks offer for shorter terms. My suggestion is to keep some money in recurring deposit of two years and the rest in 5-year tenor at higher interest for all the senior citizens. They can also simultaneously opt for interest to regularly to be taken into a RD Account.

    ssk.pab

    1 month ago

    You have said grievance redress mechanism rarely woks since dubious companies know how to trap savers with hidden clauses or sign-offs.
    Well, my personal experience shows even well reputed BANKS know how to keep redress mechanism on their right side - to such an extent that grievance redress authorities also do not look at what wrong these banks have done-either deliberately or without themselves being aware of even the printed rules. The blame lies as much with dubious companies including well reputed banks as with regulating authorities and there is no mechanism to control regulating authorities except to go to the Court. Sad state of affairs in the country.

    jjain782

    1 month ago

    Could you please send me the names of banks which offer reasonable interest rate and safe also

    kpushkar

    1 month ago

    Very good and practical advise👍👍

    How Do Contactless Credit or Debit Cards Work?
    It has been a few years since the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had allowed financial institutions and merchants to use contactless credit or debit cards for transactions. However, several customers are still apprehensive about using such contactless cards, especially about payment being deducted from their cards for transactions initiated by someone else. 
     
    Let us see how these contactless cards work in practice. While everybody refers these cards as contactless, what they really mean to says is, cards that can be connected through wireless technology. Or simply, there is no need to insert the card in to the machine and then type your personal identification number (PIN) to authenticate the transaction. 
     
    In contactless card payment transaction, all you need to do is to tap your card on the machine for any transactions valued up to Rs2,000, and wait for the green light or beep sound (for acceptance of payment). That’s it. In addition, as per the guidelines issued by the RBI, you or your bank or the card issuer can limit the amount per transaction or the number of transactions per day. 
     
    Contactless card is quite useful for small value transactions. Anywhere you see the contactless symbol at checkout or billing counter, you can simply tap to pay. Many fast food restaurants, petrol pumps, malls, convenience stores, pharmacies, and theatres, among others accept contactless card payments up to Rs2,000. 
     
    However, for transactions of over Rs2,000 you will have to use the chip and PIN system, as per the RBI directions. 
     
    Now let us see the security angle. According to Visa, one of the global payment network services providers, contactless cards are as secure as any other chip card. "They carry the same multiple layers of security, which ensure that you are safe from fraudulent or unauthorised transactions. Contactless cards work when the card is within 4cm of the card reader and the contactless payment terminal can only process one transaction at a time. Because your contactless card does not leave your hand during the transaction, you remain in control of your card at all times," it says.
     
    Many customers who are not aware of this aspect feel that someone can misuse their contactless card and deduct money for transactions not initiated by them. However, this fear is misplaced. As Visa has pointed out, the card remains in the hand of the customer and this system works only when this card is within 4cm to 6cm from the machine. In addition, the cashier at the billing counter will have to put in the amount in the terminal to activate the reader before the card can be tapped. 
     
    One thing should be clear here. The contactless card has a built-in antenna that responds to the reader signals emitted by the reading machine and then transmits encrypted signal back to the reading machine through radio waves. So the wallet, which has the contactless card, needs to be placed within 4cm-6cm to complete the transaction. This means you do not need to take out the card and tap it on the reading machine physically. 
     
    Also remember, there is no battery in the contactless card so you cannot turn it off.
     
     
    Having said that, if you have more than one contactless card, then in such cases, you will have to physically tap the reader with the card. Otherwise, in such case, payment would be deducted from the card that is closer to the reading machine. 
     
    In addition, the RBI has issued guidelines for banks and card issuer companies on providing a token that can be used to perform card transactions in contactless mode at point of sale (POS) terminals, or quick response (QR) code payments. The 'token' refers to replacement of actual card details like primary account number (PAN) with a unique alternate code, which would be unique for a combination of card, token requestor and identified device. 
     
    These tokens can be used for mobile PoS transactions, in-app purchases or online shopping. Talking about benefits of tokenisation, MasterCard says, “Tokenisation reduces fraud related to digital payments by making transactions more secure by including a dynamic component with each transaction. It takes the security of a physical EuroPay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV) chip and applies it to non-card environments including proximity and internet payments.”
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    COMMENTS

    samintl

    1 month ago

    The contactless card may be a point of convenience but is greatly susceptible to misuse. Lot of complaints are received by us when the card gets lost and it is easiest to use as no pin is required. This card should be banned. The previous version of CHIP card should be used as one feels some safe due to punching of pin.

    Mohan Sivanand

    1 year ago

    One point this otherwise informative article ignores is loss of card and subsequent misuse for transactions under ₹2000, maybe multiple times. Often, people who lose a card are not aware they lost it for days till they may need the card again. If there's a compulsory PIN it seems so much safer. Another thing I noticed is that even our credit cards that require a PIN here work without the PIN in France. That's reduced security I never wanted.

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Mohan Sivanand 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment, Sir.

    Unfortunately, there also is an issue of security with PIN. As every security expert keep saying PIN numbers must be changed periodically. But since the option is only in four-digit, making strong PINs is out of question for several users. During my financial literacy workshops, I found some of the attendees even writing PIN on the ATM card covers!

    In January 2017, a friend of mine lost about Rs80,000 in minutes when somebody withdrew this sum from an ATM. The ATM card and its PIN were in my friend's possession. It took him almost 10 months and numerous calls, emails and letters to the bank, filing a complaint with the police and, finally, help from Moneylife Foundation, to retrieve the amount.

    Point is nothing is really secure. Use of EMV chip and PIN offer some kind of protection. However, this is also prone to frauds. When people use their card on infected switches or ATMs, there is a high probability that their data will be compromised, which was observed in the 2016 case where over 30 lakh ATM cards issued by prominent banks were found compromised.

    In addition, contactless card is just one of the options provided by the card issuers. Whether to use it or not is entirely up to the customer. Having said, if the customer is not comfortable using contactless card, s/he can always use the swipe and PIN method for payments everywhere.

    For the France scenario, I would suggest you to contact card issuer in India to check the option for mandatory PIN & OTP.

    Vinay Chaudhari

    In Reply to Yogesh Sapkale 1 year ago

    Customer choice in use of contact less card is an illusion. For example, ICICI bank and Citi bank now issues only contact-less cards in certain categories. If you ask for non contact-less card, you will be told that this is strategic decision and either you accept contact less card or don't take it. Further, if you ask to reduce the Rs 2000 limit for contact-less transaction or ask to disable the contact-less feature then surprise, its not possible. I have fought hard with ICICI bank but in vain. In fact, I have even written to RBI ombudsman pointing out that banks should provide way to reduce transaction limit as warranted by its own circular on contact-less card but it has rejected the same on technical grounds.

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Vinay Chaudhari 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. As I keep saying, contactless card is just one of the options provided by the card issuers. Whether to use it or not is entirely up to the customer. Having said, if the customer is not comfortable using contactless card, s/he can always use the swipe and PIN method for payments everywhere.

    Point is, nobody is forcing you for either using contactless card or having one. You can get your card changed (there may be some charges for changing the category and cost of card) to EMV Chip card from contactless.

    Ashok N

    In Reply to Yogesh Sapkale 1 year ago

    Yes, nobody is forcing me. But when RBI says there should be provision to reduce the transaction limit and/or number of contactless transactions, why isn't ICICI providing it? Why are contactless cards default option?

    As I said I still use my contactless card, but very careful not to take it out if I intend to go by public transport or to crowded places. There is potential loss of 2000 rs apart from cash.

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Ashok N 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. No one can really be behind you holding their reader machine near your pocket in a public transport or at a crowded place. The system does not work that way. Also all readers have ID number and are given to merchants after due scrutiny. Contactless card readers are not easily available like the magnetic card skimmers, so nobody will come behind you in public transport or crowded place with it.
    ICICI Bank does provide a lot of options for debit cards and you can chose one that comes with only EMV chip. Do check it out on ICICI Bank site https://www.icicibank.com/Personal-Banki...

    Ashok N

    In Reply to Yogesh Sapkale 1 year ago

    Hello Yogesh ji,
    Thank you patiently replying to all comments. You misunderstood me. By public places or crowded places, I mean wherever chances of pocket getting picked is higher. Always I have been saying the same. There is potential loss when the card is PHYSICALLY lost. This is not the case with emv card.

    I know card cannot read when it is inside pocket.

    Abhijit Kanjilal

    1 year ago

    saves seconds but risk starts if misplaced or stolen. Not a recommended option.

    Arpita Padiyar

    1 year ago

    Most pos don\'t show us the amount typed before flashing the card. Getting refund for wrongly entered amount is difficult. also does bank take liability in case of theft. A thief may flash the card at several places for less than 2k before we come to know. this card is like 2k note.

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Arpita Padiyar 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. However, every merchant I had done transactions with has told me the bill amount upfront. Several have two displays that show the total amount for the bill. If its not there, then you can file complaint against the merchant with the service provider (bank).

    Ashok N

    1 year ago

    I do use a contact less credit card. But I feel it is less safer since if lose the card, it can be used *without pin* till the time we realize the loss of the card and block it. I definitely don't carry the card when I am travelling by public transport.

    Also though it is said that the banks have to provide for restricting its usage (number of transactions per day, or maximum amount per transaction), I haven't been able to see this provision on ICICI bank site.

    REPLY

    Vinay Chaudhari

    In Reply to Ashok N 1 year ago

    There is no way to reduce transaction limit on contact less card or to disable the feature. I have learned after fighting hard with both ICICI bank and citi bank.

    Arpita Padiyar

    In Reply to Ashok N 1 year ago

    i have kept the card at home not using it unless safe guards are provided. bank may treat 2k as small amount but for common man it is not.

    Kalyanasundaram Srinivasan

    1 year ago

    Contactless card is totally unsafe ,and to make the card transactions safe card issuing company should give an option to the card holder to temporarily pause the contactless transactions of his card. The card holder at his liberty should be able to choose between contactless operations or pin based operations for his contact less card.

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Kalyanasundaram Srinivasan 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. Kindly understand, nobody is forcing you to get and use a contactless card. It is fully your choice, whether to use it or no. Also at the billing counter, you can ask the person to swipe your card instead of tapping it on to the reader. This way you can insert your PIN to validate the transaction.

    Aditya G

    1 year ago

    This is great! I'm all in favour of convenience, as long as user knows the security aspects & workflow in case of compromise i.e. keep that SOS number in handy!

    Keying the PIN such a hassle, and I need those precious seconds of my life back, if I could, if there was a time machine. I reckon I would have lost at least 3-4 days of my life just keying the PIN after PIN over the last 20 years. Ugh!

    Contactless and wallets are the way to go for the future. Next is Apple/Samsung Pay. This has to go mainstream. I'm surprised why India has not adopted Kenyan model of m-pesa model for making payments over mobile? It seems so seamless. Or maybe we did, and it failed? IDK.

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Aditya G 1 year ago

    Thanks Aditya for your comment. For other payment instruments, the issue could be non-existent grievance redressal. There are several cases, where the customer is made to run from pillar to post for payment is made from their account into an e-wallets or mobile wallet. This could be one of the reasons. But as you said, with bigger players with international standards entering into Indian market, things may become better.

    Uday Thakurdesai

    1 year ago

    Just as cash can be pickpocketed, so can the card. In which case, the thief can literally steal the entire balance. The card holder should be given an option to enforce the use of PIN should he want it. Those who are ready to bear the risk can be perfectly comfortable with the existing system. Why enforce it on those who do not want it?

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Uday Thakurdesai 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. Kindly understand, nobody is forcing you to get and use a contactless card. At the billing counter, you can ask the cashier to swipe/insert your card instead of tapping it on to the contactless reader. This will allow you use your PIN to validate the transaction.

    SURESH NAIR

    1 year ago

    The probability of misuse very much exists! For example if person is keeping his contactless card in his purse which is in his back pocket all the scamster has to do is to approach the person from behind and ensure that the card reader is 4cm from the card! And before you know it, you have scammed for Rs 2000! The same with cards in handbags etc!

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to SURESH NAIR 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. No one can really be behind you holding their reader machine near your pocket. The system does not work that way. Also all readers have ID number and are given to merchants after due scrutiny. Contactless card readers are not easily available like the magnetic card skimmers.
    As far as misuse is concerned, it is the same case with all types of payment instruments. Point is, use contactless card only if you are comfortable for payment transactions of up to Rs2,000. If you are not comfortable, then you can use swipe/insert and PIN method for all transactions.

    Arun Kumar Saha

    In Reply to SURESH NAIR 1 year ago

    This is good point. I think if a contactless card is accompanied with some sort of thumb reader where it force card holder to hold his card physically at the time of tapping, would be a way for improvement

    SANDESH PAWAR

    1 year ago

    What if we loose a card. I think is the biggest factor amongst the consumers.

    REPLY

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to SANDESH PAWAR 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. Your apprehension is applicable to all types of payment instruments, including chip cards or even cash in your wallet. Also as applicable to all other cards, you need to report the loss to the card issuer and block it from further misuse.

    Vivek Sinha

    In Reply to Yogesh Sapkale 9 months ago

    Dear Sir,
    Why the bank has to force someone to use contactless credit card.
    It should be totally choice of the customer. We are paying for the service.
    Here As My case ICICI is forcing me to use contactless credit card or close the card that's not how bank should work.
    What if I lost my card and I am unaware about it.
    If any fraud happen bank takes ages to refund the amount.
    Now a days bank are mostly concerned towards profit Making not the service.

    Ashok N

    In Reply to Yogesh Sapkale 1 year ago

    And till the time we realize the loss of the card and block, it can be misused. This is not the case with Pin based cards.

    Yogesh Sapkale

    In Reply to Ashok N 1 year ago

    Thanks for your comment. You may want to read...

    "ATM, Debit, Credit card frauds: What you need to know and how to protect your money"
    https://www.moneylife.in/article/atm-debit-credit-card-frauds-what-you-need-to-know-and-how-to-protect-your-money/48648.html

    HDFC disburses subsidy to over 1 lakh first-time homebuyers under PMAY
    HDFC Ltd, India’s premier housing finance company has disbursed subsidy amounting to over Rs2,300 crore benefitting over 1,04,000 families under the government’s flagship housing scheme - Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY).
     
    The corporation has approved Rs22,136 crore of home loans under the Credit Linked Subsidy Scheme (CLSS) to homebuyers belonging to the economically weaker section (EWS), Low Income Group (LIG) and Middle Income Groups (MIG), HDFC said in a statement. 
     
    The housing finance company has partnered with the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs and the National Housing Bank to work towards the government’s goal of “Affordable Housing for All”
     
    “The government’s PMAY scheme is a growth accelerator programme that aims to provide affordable housing to people in the country. The thrust on housing is a recognition that a rapidly growing country like India with a large young population needs more affordable homes. The government has rightly incentivised all constituents in the housing chain – be it developers, borrowers and lenders in order to make India a property owning democracy,” said Renu Sud Karnad, Managing Director, HDFC Ltd. She further added that people should take advantage of this scheme at the earliest as the ones for the MIG category are only available until 31 March, 2020. In this regard, HDFC has also engaged with developers and channel partners to reach out to eligible beneficiaries. 
     
    During 2018-19, the housing finance company has approved 37% of home loans in volume terms and 18% in value terms to customers from the EWS and LIG segment. On average, the corporation has been approving 8,600 loans on a monthly basis to the EWS and LIG segment, with such average approvals at Rs1,460, they said in a statement. The average home loan to the EWS and LIG segment stood at Rs10.1 lakh and Rs17.5 lakh respectively. 
     
    CLSS, which was introduced in June 2015 under the PMAY for EWS, LIG and extended to MIG from January 2017, gives borrowers an interest subsidy of 6.5% per annum for loans up to Rs6 lakh for EWS and LIG category (annual household income up to Rs6 lakh). Interest subsidy of 4% and 3% are provided for loans up to Rs 9 lakh and Rs 12 lakh, respectively, for MIG category for a maximum tenure of 20 years. 
     
    The effective subsidy to customer is in the range of Rs2.30 – Rs2.67 lakh on a 20 year term, receivable upfront. The schemes for MIG are valid up to March 32, 2020, while the plans for EWS/LIG are valid up to March 31,2022.
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