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Indian operators flout TRAI norms as recovery agents harass subscribers by posing as police, advocates

Bill recovery agents or bounty hunters? That's a question that telecom services subscribers like Annkur Agarwal and Sunil Jaiswani are wondering. The duo have been getting calls from people posing as

Bill recovery agents or bounty hunters? That’s a question that telecom services subscribers like Annkur Agarwal and Sunil Jaiswani are wondering. The duo have been getting calls from people posing as advocates and police officers, threatening them with non-existent FIRs and arrest warrants, unless they pay the pending bills for their broadband connections. Both have raised issues with their carrier about discrepancies in their bills, something that the customer care executives have refused to acknowledge.

Both Agarwal and Jaiswani managed to record their conversation with the alleged police officer from Delhi’s Vikaspuri area. I faced a similar case myself a few years ago when the service provider failed to provide connectivity at my residence, yet insisted on sending bills for services it did not deliver. Even I received such threatening calls and eventually paid the bill for services I never received just to get rid of the menace. Unlike me, the duo is sticking to their guns and standing up to the harassment.

(You can listen to Annkur’s call here.)

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came out with guidelines in 2007 that clearly mentioned the code of conduct for carriers when it came to recovering dues from subscribers.

Identification and role of Agent of outsourced agency:

a. Agent of outsourced agency should have photo Identity card issued by the outsourced agency along with authorization letter from service provider issued to the outsourced agency. Photo identity card should
contain the contact number of supervisory officer / helpline of the service provider. Agent should show his identity card to the customer voluntarily at the time of visit.

b. At the time of calling/ contacting to customer, agent of outsourced agency must convey the complete details such as name of contacting person, name of telecom service provider on behalf of which call is being made, name of outsourced agency and contact number if customer desire so.

c. Agent of outsourced agency shall never misrepresent as lawyer/police or anyone belonging to any government agency.

d. Agent of outsourced agency must identify as a representative of the service provider with clear indication of his role.

e. Agent of outsourced agency shall not act as legal representative or lawyer of service provider.

In both the cases, the agents have not only misrepresented themselves as a legal representative of the service provider but also as police, which is prohibited by TRAI regulations.

The TRAI regulations also warrant the service providers to maintain the secrecy and privacy of subscribers. However, even that is flouted when it comes to recovering unpaid bills. Take the case of Milind, who started getting calls from one “courier service” asking for the contact details of one of his friends who had already left the country and settled abroad.

“They kept calling me under the pretext of ‘courier service’ with a ‘package from Rockwell India Chennai’. All they kept asking for was where my friend was now. I got suspicious since they would not reveal any details – what courier service, what package, nothing. On the third day, the guy said he was from Airtel. I yelled at the guy when he called me once again – at which point he suddenly stopped calling. After this incident, my number has been mysteriously signed up for some dealership of Dish TV and people have been calling me all day thinking I run some electronics store,” Milind recounts.

How did the recovery agent get Milind’s number? We have more cases where friends and family members have received calls asking for the subscriber’s whereabouts. And there is only one way to get it – through the subscriber’s call logs.

Here’s what TRAI’s guidelines have to say about this:

Obligation of Telecom Service Providers (Licensees):

a. Service provider need to ensure effective complaint handling mechanism for billing complaints as stipulated in the “Quality of Service (Code of Practice for Metering and Billing Accuracy) Regulation 2006” dated 21st March, 2006 and redressal mechanism as specified in “Telecom Consumers Protection and Redressal of Grievances Regulations, 2007” dated 4th May, 2007. The existence of an effective complaint handling mechanism for billing complaints and grievance redressal mechanism should significantly reduce the incidences of outstanding dues from consumers.

b. Service provider should ensure that before a collection case is given to an outsourced agency, advance intimation through telephone call or SMS, followed by intimation in writing, is given to the customer regarding his outstanding dues so that the customer’s response could be elicited. Such intimation should have the contact details of the supervisory officer of the service provider who can be contacted for further clarification, if needed.

c. Wherever the customer has disputed the bill/outstanding dues and such dispute/complaint/appeal is pending for redressal by the Nodal Officer or appellate authority, as the case may be, such cases shall not be handed over to outsourced agency for collection of dues.

d. Service providers should have consumer awareness agenda for educating consumers, particularly on billing dispute resolution mechanism, and their recovery policy/procedure through outsourced agency.

e. Secrecy / privacy of the consumer information should be ensured as per the licensing conditions.

Expected Conduct from agent of outsourced agency :

i. Agent of outsourced agency shall conduct himself while undertaking collection of the outstanding dues as per the laws of the country and as per the Code of Conduct for outsourced agency and agents.
ii. Agent of outsourced agency shall be polite towards the customer so as to avoid allegation of bad behavior. Security deposited as per agreement/contract shall be forfeited by the telecom service provider and agreements
cancelled for such acts.
iii. Agent of outsourced agency shall not threaten the customer by using abusive language or following criminal means.
iv. Agent of outsourced agency shall call the consumer only from the telephone numbers published on the Website of the Service Providers. The agent of outsourced agency shall not make calls from any other telephone number to consumer.
v. Agent of outsourced agency shall make calls to the consumer or visit the premises of consumers for collection of dues during 8:00AM to 09:00 PM only or the appointed time.

I’m sure this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There would be hundreds such cases happening on a daily basis and many, like myself, would have succumbed to the harassment and given up. TRAI, which first made the regulation about recovery agents, needs to revisit the guidelines and provide a way for consumers to register complaints about rogue recovery agents. TRAI should also levy a fine on carriers for every complaint that gets verified.

If you ever get a call like this, try and record the conversation. If that’s not possible, note down all details of the call – the number from which you received the call, the name and designation the caller claims to be, the case number (if provided) and any other details that you can get from the caller. Always call back from a different number to verify whether the caller was indeed the person he was claiming to be.

If you have ever been harassed like this, tell us about your experience in comments below.

  • Published Date: May 28, 2012 3:46 PM IST
  • Updated Date: May 28, 2012 5:11 PM IST