HSBC, three DSAs fined Rs50,000 by consumer forum for harassment through telemarketing
Moneylife Digital Team 06 May 2013

Despite raising the issue of unwanted marketing calls to the HSBC’s highest authorities in India, Sinha continued to be harassed by telecallers on behalf of the lender. Finally, after over four years, a consumer forum found the Bank and its agents guilty and asked them to pay Rs50,000

During 2007-2008, Delhi-based Ashutosh Sinha suffered from innumerable telemarketing calls by direct selling agents (DSAs) of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). Incidentally, it was the same lender, who rejected Sinha’s application for a credit card and then wanted to sell him ‘other products’.

After repeatedly writing to all concerned officials from HSBC, Sinha even raised the issue before the Bank’s India chief, Naina Lal Kidwai (current president of FICCI). Unfortunately, despite her promises, Sinha continued to receive the unsolicited commercial communication or marketing calls from HSBC. Finally, in 2008, he approached a consumer forum, which last month upheld his appeal and fined HSBC and its three DSAs.

In its order, the Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum, said, “We are of the opinion that some unsolicited calls have been given to the Complainant by which the right of privacy of the Complainant was violated and the Complainant suffered inconvenience, harassment and mental agony due to unsolicited calls. We are of the opinion that Complainant is entitled to be reasonably compensated for that.”

The Forum asked HSBC and its three DSA to pay Rs50,000 as compensation for causing harassment to Sinha and also pay Rs5,000 towards litigation cost. However, he feels the penalty is paltry considering the inconvenience, harassment and mental agony he had to suffer. “Since the amount of Rs50,000 is too little, I may move higher court to make sure I drive the message home. I want this to be a lesson for all banks and financial institutions and hope others can learn from my experience too,” Sinha says.

Here is the first person account of Sinha’ ordeal to stop telemarketing calls from HSBC…

I moved to Delhi in March 2007 to join a new place of work after a three-year stint in Mumbai. A little later, sometime in May 2007, I applied for a credit card from HSBC. A person visited the office on behalf of HSBC, made me fill the form. He gave me a receipt for the application. About a month later, I was told that the application had been rejected. In addition, as happens with financial institutions, the communication was sugarcoated and no reason was given for the rejection.

No sooner had the application been rejected, I started getting calls for buying other products of HSBC such as personal loans, home loans and a whole lot of others. I ignored the first few calls because the rejection of the credit card application was fresh in my mind. And, besides, why should I give business to a bank that does not consider me worthy of a credit card customer?

However, the calls continued and refused to stop, so I decided to bring it to the notice of HSBC. I wrote to them repeatedly, and each time mentioned the number, date and time of the call. HSBC did reply to some of those emails and said that they were taking necessary action to have the calls stopped. But the calls did not stop. Between July and December 2007, I must have received at least 70 to 100 calls, some of which I did not respond. At times, I was so familiar with the numbers that I would not bother taking the call. On the occasions that I wrote to them, I made sure I wrote down the call details. Over several months, this became a trail of evidence that HSBC found it difficult to dismiss.

On 1 October 2007 the concept of Do Not Call was introduced by TRAI and it went live and I formally registered my phone to be a part of the do not call list. However, my phone was already on the do not disturb list by Vodafone.

On 23 December 2007, a little after 9am on Sunday, a person called me on behalf of HSBC, offering to sell credit cards. I asked the person to come home. Meanwhile, I called Malini Thadani (Head of Communications, Public Policy and Corporate Sustainability at HSBC at that time) and told her that if the person came home, I may beat him up. She was aghast and blurted, "How can you do that?" I told her the story of what had been happening for over six months. The person did not turn up.

Soon after, I got a text message from HSBC regional manager, Jamsher Dhillon. He came home the next day, with a bouquet of flowers, and assured me that I would not get calls from HSBC. I showed him the list of calls I had received, and within minutes, he found out about the culprits. He left my home at around 11:30am and before 3pm there was another call with a sales pitch! I called up Jamsher and he was surprised. He told me that he would send out an internal memo that no one should call my number. Much to my amazement, there were two more calls the next day. I contacted Jamsher again and he said that he was going to stop all telecalling. But he was surely lying because I got yet another call!

In the meantime, the quality control people from HSBC in Chennai apologized for what had been happening. They sent me an email and a hard copy of the letter, naming their channel partners who had been calling me regularly. Despite the apology, the calls did not stop!

I wrote to the HSBC headquarters and they asked me to contact the India office. Then, I wrote to Naina Lal Kidwai, who claimed that HSBC takes such matters very seriously! She referred the matter to the head of credit cards, Jagdish Khanna, who claimed that they were working on a system which would not allow any calls to be made if a phone number was on the do not call list. But till this was done, he said that he could not guarantee that the calls would stop.

The frequency of the calls, in the meanwhile, had come down but it did not cease completely.

Sometime in January 2013, when I had turned the heat on HSBC, the owner of Mascom India, one of the DSAs, contacted and met me at my office and claimed that he was a cousin of one of my colleagues and requested that I should not pursue the matter. A couple of weeks later, he came along with another person claiming to work for HSBC. The person wept inconsolably and said that because of my complaints, he was going to lose his job at HSBC. I decided to ignore his claims.

By now, I had decided that, whether it was HSBC or any other bank, it did not matter to them what end customers had to face. Therefore, I decided to pursue my case in the consumer court.

Nearly four and a half years after I had filed the case, on 22 April 2013, the consumer court found HSBC and its three DSAs guilty of violating my privacy and calling repeatedly. The guilty have been asked to pay Rs50,000 and Rs5,000 as litigation cost.

I still believe that I have got a raw deal since I have had to suffer at their hands for one full year. It must be pointed out that after the case was filed in the consumer court, I have never ever got any telemarketing calls from HSBC, but I still do get calls from HDFC Bank and Citibank.

You can read other stories of HSBC over here:

1 decade ago
can we stop any telemarketers like this?
Vaidya Dattatraya Vasudeo
1 decade ago
Hearty Congratulations. I am a BSNL Mobile user. I am already on DND. Still I do get some calls. If I lodge a co, mplaint to BSNL nothing happens. How do I proceed. I do really wish to punish these people. Any help is welcome. Thanks in advance.

Kavita Swame
1 decade ago
I was also harassed by for over a month or more and finally that DND concept came and it stopped. I called(STD charges for God's sake) them several times explained patiently, scolded but nothing worked. Emails did not work. Funny thing is I am not from Mumbai still they send SMS/emails/calls of deals in Mumbai. After recogzing their numbers I sopped taking calls but SMS I had to accept no way to reject. Even I complained to Airtel(My service Provider) no use.

For the past 2-3 months I am rcvng promo emails from Indiatimes Shopping, even after unsubsrcibing. Sent email no reply. Every time I unsubscribe they create another group and send mail again. So there is no use of unsubing. Practically you can see this by sub-unsub of their promo mails. Do not know what to do.
50K is peanuts for them, it must be in atleast lakhs. It is like if you have 50K you can bother anybody for a year kind of idea. Fine must be heavy for institutions.
Michael Mason-Mahon
1 decade ago
Mr Ashutosh
May I say congratulations and well done.

May I suggest you send the article to the following people.

You may like to contact Mr Stuart Milne CEO of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in India: [email protected]

You may also like to contact Mr Flint the Chairman of HSBC Holdings Plc : [email protected] and ask him is this HSBC Values and their staff acting with Courageous Integrity.

HSBC states that: HSBC takes compliance with the law, wherever it operates, very seriously. You may like to ask Mr Stuart Levey has HSBC in India been complying with the Laws in India. [email protected]

Is it your personal belief that HSBC and their Agent's are in violation of the following Sections of the Indian Penal Code?

52. “Good faith”.- Nothing is said to be done or believed in “good faith” which is done or believed without due care and attention

As HSBC did not comply with section 52 of the IPC, therefore they have violated Section 43. HSBC was legally bond to do: Act with due care and attention.

43. “ Illegal”, “Legally bound to do”.- The word “illegal” is applicable to everything which is an offence or which is prohibited by law, or which furnishes ground for a civil action; and a person is said to be “legally bound to do” whatever it is illegal in him to omit.

Has HSBC's agent acted illegally by there actions.
44. “Injury”.- The word “injury” denotes any harm whatever illegally caused to any person, in body, mind, reputation or property.

By the agent's illegal behavior this has caused great distress to you and HSBC is legally responsible for the actions by their and contractors.

Kind regards

Michael Mason-Mahon
Mobile: 0044 7834763544
Mobile: 0044 7448770801
E-mail: [email protected]

"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win."
hemant charya
1 decade ago
This ruling is a win for consumers harassed by telemarketers. Hats off to Mr Ashutosh Sinha for determinedly pursuing the case to its logical conclusion. However, the penalty amount should be 10X more, in additions the business licenses of the DSA and of the telemarketer should be suspended for at least 12 months. A mere fifty thousand bucks is loose change for the DSAs to part with, which is equivalent to letting them walk away scot-free. Wonder when Indian Penal statutes will be revised!!

Telemarketers workaround TRAI regulation by changing their calling phone numbers after disconnection. As a result the DNC complaints lodged with telecom providers is futile and the National Do Not Call registry remains as useful as the 'r' in February. Suspension of business license should be the
hemant charya
1 decade ago
This ruling is a win for consumers harassed by telemarketers.

Mr Ashutosh Sinha deserves applause for determinedly pursuing the case to its logical conclusion.

However, the penalty should be 10X more. A mere fifty thousand bucks is loose change for the DSAs to part with.

Telemarketers bypass TRAI regulation by constantly changing their calling phone numbers, as a result of which the DNC complaints with telecom providers is futile and the National Do Not Call registry remains as useful as the 'r' in February.
1 decade ago
Hats off to Ashutosh Sinha for his perseverance and patience.

It's a great example for all of us "victims" of unsolicited telemarketing calls, who only complain, but do nothing.
Anil Agashe
1 decade ago
I am not surprised. i had a bad experience with this bank in the past as regards to my wife's account where i am a joint holder and they were very funny. When I told them what they are doing is against RBI norms I was told But Sir we are a foreign bank!
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