Consumers could find themselves badly out of pocket on calling banks on the numbers provided to raise a dispute or make an inquiry. These are special number starting with 1860 that are often mistaken for toll free numbers by ordinary people.
In fact, numbers starting with 1860 are premium numbers and impose a higher charge on callers.
Several private sector lenders such as ICICI Bank, Citi Bank, Karur Vyasa Bank, Axis Bank and IndusInd Bank are using premium numbers from the 1860 series (not the 1800 series, which is the toll free number) for customer queries.
While a few of these banks have been using numbers from the 1860 series, not all of them have disclosed the fact that “local charges may apply”.
In order to verify, we called the toll free number of IndusInd bank, 1860 500 5004. After calling, the phone gets connected to an interactive voice response (IVR) system where it mentions further details. However, neither the call nor the contact page of the Bank mentions the fact that local charges will be applicable. It was only after disconnecting the call that we realised balance from our mobile had been deducted as call charges.
Moneylife investigated this issue when a Mumbai-based techie Parag Nabar tweeted about the use of 1860 premium numbers by ICICI Bank and Citi Bank.
Interestingly, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has not issued any guidelines or circular on use of paid premium number as customer care or helpline number, as revealed by a reply received under Right to Information (RTI) Act. This only means that RBI has tacitly allowed banks to find yet another way to extract charges from consumers, when such services are offered free to consumers in most industries.
We also found that while private sector lenders are using 1860 premium paid numbers for customer care, public sector banks (PSBs) are using toll free numbers to connect with customers.
So what exactly is the difference between a premium and toll free numbers and what does the 1860 and 1800 series mean? Both these series have single 11 digit numbers that are accessible from across the country from any operator network.
Numbers like 1800-xxx-xxxx are toll free which means the caller does not incur any costs. On the other hand, numbers starting with 1860 are premium numbers and the caller is charged for the call depending upon the duration.
In essence, every time someone calls a customer care number which starts with 1800, the call is free of cost. If the customer calls on a number that begins with 1860, she will have to bear either partial or full cost for the call.
Several organisations, including banks provide their unique 11 digit toll free number for customers to access from across the country. However, many a times, customers from different network operator find it difficult to connect through the toll free numbers.
Responding to Mr Nabar’s tweet, one Gauresh Mehta tried to explain why this happens. According to him, many mobile operators do not connect to 1800 toll free numbers as there are no monetary benefits in this for them.
Our investigation further showed that several private sector lenders such as Citi Bank, Karur Vyasa Bank, Axis Bank and ICICI Bank are using premium paid number for either customer care or as customer helpline. However Citi Bank, Karur Vaysa Bank and ICIC have mentioned that “local charges apply” on their website.
RBI’s response to our RTI query was- “We have not issued any specific guidelines in this regard. However, you may refer to Para 16.5.1, “on Display of names of Nodal Officers” of our master circular DBR No.Leg.BC.21/09.07.006/2015-16 dated July 1 2015 on “Customer Service in Banks.”
We found that the RBI circular has only asked banks to provide specific numbers to allow consumers to connect with nodal officers
So the next time you are calling a bank and are in for a long wait, you may want to pay attention to the number on which you call and be aware that you are paying the charges.