Private Banks Are Using Paid Premium Numbers for Customer Service; RBI says No Guidelines Issued By It
Aravind Natarajan 29 August 2019
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. 
2 years ago
UPDATE (Oct 2022) :
ICICI Bank has moved from a chargeable "1860"number (1860-120-7777) to a brand-new "1800" number! Strangely though while 1800 numbers have 11 digits (eg: 1800-102-5555 in case of Manipal Hospitals Bangalore) this new number of ICICI Bank has just 8 digits! Yes, you read it right: 1800-8080 !! Source:

Since I use JIO (which anyways allows free access to "chargeable" 1860 numbers) I cannot test if this new number is, indeed, toll-free!

Request all to test from their respective Airtel / BSNL / Jio / VI prepaid numbers and update on this thread. Do mention: Circle , City & Operator eg: Karnataka / Bengaluru / Jio !

Thanks in advance for your efforts in keeping this thread active (and relevant) even 38 months after it was originally posted, way back in August 2019.
2 years ago
A related fact to this topic, on a recent chat with Airtel customer care, I was told the strangest thing! They informed me that 1800 numbers were chargeable from a landline but free on the mobile! Anyone else aware of this?!
2 years ago
Years after this article was published and this issue was raised. Nothing has been done till date. Neither MoneyLife nor any of the people who commented or discussed this has been able to do anything about it. What's the point of this type of journalism and awareness that results in No Action or No Change?

Seems the society has no backbone and nobody knows what to do about corporates and politicians.
Replied to yuvraj.awasthi comment 2 years ago
I have turned cynical over the years, but you sir managed to stun me. If there is no point to our kind of journalism and you see no value in the basic job of finding out and creating awareness, why are you on this page at all? Also, may I know what you plan to do about it? Will you be filing a PIL? Or will you only cast aspersions at others?
Replied to sucheta comment 12 months ago
Great job done. I appreciate your work.
Replied to sucheta comment 2 years ago
Sucheta, done a great job creating awareness about this 'malpractice' via this article. I could not find much on this topic on the internet. Unfortunately, many people do have a lot of disposable income these days and don't care about such things. However, there are millions who cannot take on such added expenses. Clearly, the RBI and TRAI are enabling this trend at the cost of the customer. They are the only ones who can lay down laws to address this. When institutions that are supposed to be looking after your interests lie in bed with the perpetrators, the consumers are trapped! Please keep fighting, and do keep creating awareness on such topics.
2 years ago
Personally I feel that calling a Bank on a 1860 is still more cost effective than visiting a Branch! A few Rupees on a call should NOT bother the average customer who calls maybe once-twice a year : compared to the cost of traveling to a Branch, paying Parking Fees etc!

Those who disagree can still call the "Outside India" number which will be something like +91yyyxxxxxxxx (STD + Landline number). This is free and not charged under the Unlimited Calling plan option!!
3 years ago
We all should represent to TRAI as individuals and also through consumer collectives on their social media pages and also in telecom consultation papers they place for public comments regularly on their web site. Had the banks intended just to save on toll free expenditure they could have provided a single Fixed wireless terminal /Mobile no(s) or Landline nos. where customer calls are charged like any other no. which are usually included in the scope of unlimited talk time packs of telecom cos. Their intention in solely providing customer care via 1860 series premium nos. is to make some extra money also hand in glove with telecom cos. who are eager to offer it for revenue share. , which is not just unfair but unethical also as they make so many IVR sales promotions in course of calls at customer expenses. All such premium nos. incl 1860 series should be permitted by TRAI only for the purpose of contests or prize offering campaigns etc., and not to be extended to financial or consumer service cos. for the purpose of customer service.
Replied to Dr.Manohar comment 2 years ago
Dr Manohar, I agree with you, ????
Banks are trying to increase revenue through 1860 calls + reduce Opex by reducing incoming calls to their centre + increase walkins at Branches - where they can "upsell" you various products like Life Insurance, Credit Card upgrades etc!
Replied to Dr.Manohar comment 3 years ago
I have posted it on TRAI facebook page on current telecom subscriber data update post and will certainly do so in any consultation paper that comes up on telecom operators. Request other also to protest and limit premium no. usgae only for prize offering consumer contests and campaigns for which they were introduced in first place and certainly not for the purpose of offering customer service by banks and other financial institutions . Axis bank is the worst of all they donot even provide an email ID as an alternate channel for those who donot wish to fork out on 1860 series nos. or physically visit the branch
3 years ago
All customers should get together as a movement and refuse to do business with or give their custom to any company that has 1860 customer service numbers, and be sure to tell them the reason too. This practice has to end.
3 years ago
MoneyLife, is there some way you can increase the awareness of this and lead a movement against this practice. Contact some lawyers maybe. Just like when one scooter parks wrongly, all others follow, as if this makes it right somehow, this too is becoming widespread, and not restricted to banks alone. It will put a huge burden on customers who are already oppressed, as the brunt of any economic upheaval, finally lands on the common man. I don't see any other rungs in the ladder ever taking a share of the load.
Replied to Ani1 comment 3 years ago
I too am been harassed with this problem I have spent more than Rs.500 only last month to call the customer care. It is not only Banks almost all the customer care numbers have taken the same path. If you find some way to file a suite please keep us informed. I would do that too. It is not about money what we are losing it is about ethical business. customer care should be free. I don't think this happening in any other country.
3 years ago
I wish this unscrupulous trend gets more exposure and more opposition from the public, and RBI corrects this practice soon, but it looks like the govt is hand in glove with the banks on this, as this article is nearly 2 years old and the practice is continuing! I wish to point out that 'local charges apply' is also incorrect/misleading, as this would mean the charges are same as call made to a mobile or landline number. However, this is not the case. A simple call to customer care can cost the customer Rs. 100 easily. Banks like Axis do not even provide an alternative email ID! How can the govt allow this to happen?! Recently, even the retail sector has caught on to this trend. BigBasket customer care is also a 1860 number all across India! The argument of mobile networks not connecting the 1800 calls is simply nonsense! The companies can simply provide a regular landline or mobile number. Customers are paying for unlimited call packs anyway, so the calls will be connected also and not pinch the customers too.
5 years ago
Companies do not want to pay for calls to them. A call to a ph. no. starting with 1860 is @Rs9/minute. Air India Ltd also charges for calls to Call Centre no. 1860 no. Its employees cannot understand English well. I phoned 3 times to get 1 job done & paid about Rs 500 for 3 ph calls. Each time I had to talk to a new person & repeat all. I told one of them thrice the same request in the same call. All these took too much time & costed me too much.

Replied to BR comment 3 years ago
I have had similar experiences as well. Many times when we call, there will be company promotions, long winding IVR menus, IVR giving you unnecessary information like your bank balance or last bill amount, etc; as well as long holds, which can easily be manipulated to make the calls longer. In fact, many times I have been put on unnecessary holds, while the information given later should have been right there on their screens. It is almost bordering on malpractice and should be stopped immediately. I just hope some PIL is done on this.
Aditya G
5 years ago
I don't mind paying if a human being 'immediately' picks up the phone at the other end and solves my problem within a matter of minutes.

Toll-free makes sense only if it's IVR or for basic automative tasks -- such as lodging an initial complaint (or whatever) so that a human being will call later.

But, yeah, if nobody is picking up or if IVR is dead or non-responsive, then it's an issue.
Godavari Joshi
5 years ago
Thanks MoneyLife for bringing this to our attention. The banks have found another way to 'save on their costs'. Everything is chargable to the customer while the customer has to keep a certain minimum balance to be treated as some so called to be a 'value and higher end customer'. Yes, they may inform you, but it shall be in such fine print and so much legalese and that much of it may not come to your attention or lost in understanding. Well, BUYERS BEWARE, right ?
Replied to Godavari Joshi comment 3 years ago
Godavari, they are not saving on their costs, instead they are making money. As article mentioned, they could easily provide a regular number if they are unwilling to bear the cost of a toll free number. However, they are not doing that, why? That is because with 1860 numbers they share the revenue with, I guess, the other party, which is probably the govt. Customer service is the lifeline of any online transaction, so it absolutely must be free or charged at regular call charges.
K.R. Nath
5 years ago
It is not only Banks but even many organizations which do so. Eureka Forbes asked me recently to use this number 18602661177 for their Help desk which from my Vodofone I was unable to connect. Only now I know the background. Thanks Moneylife for enlightening!
5 years ago
There is only one word to describe these activities "Bhikari".
suneel kumar gupta
5 years ago
Same issue is with tata sky.
5 years ago
Thanks for bringing to the notice of Public. Thanks Money-Life.
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