Play your cards well

International debit and credit cards have made travel easy. Pushpa Girimaji, however, warns against the pitfalls

Earlier if you had to go abroad, you had to go through a time-consuming procedure to get foreign exchange for the trip. You had to visit the office of the Reserve Bank of India, stand in a queue, fill up a form and even then, the foreign exchange that you got was limited.

Today whether on a holiday or business trip, all you need to put in your wallet is your international debit card or credit card or may be both. And you can make all your payments, including hotel bills, travel, food and shopping using the cards.

While with debit cards you draw from your own account, with credit cards, you have to repay the credit card company, but even here you pay after your return and in the Indian rupee.

In this scenario, imagine if for some reason, the credit or the debit card does not work or the bank refuses to honour your card without any valid reason? Besides the embarrassment, imagine being stranded in a foreign land without any money.

The Delhi State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission adjudicated over one such case and upheld the order of the Delhi District Consumer Disputes Redressal Forum awarding the consumer, a compensation of Rs 20,000, in addition to Rs 5000 towards the litigation cost.

During a trip to London, Raj Mohan presented his credit card for a payment of Rs 3000, only to find it being rejected. On returning home, he filed a complaint alleging that he had a credit limit of Rs 95,000 on which there was a balance of Rs 28,000. Yet, he was denied a transaction of Rs 3000 in London.

The bank argued that though the customer had a credit limit of Rs 95,000, the transaction already billed to the card account was around Rs 60,000. The consumer had an outstanding of Rs 7593 towards certain domestic transactions and apart from these, there were a few charges, which were authorised on the card account but were yet to be billed.

In view of the apprehension that the outstanding amount against the card may exceed the credit limit, the transaction of Rs 3000 was declined.

Besides, there were some in-built system parameters, which restricted the number of transactions or value on a card on any given day, the bank said. In any case, they had apologised to Mohan and as a goodwill gesture had also waived the annual charges on the card. It was therefore not fair on the part of the District Forum to slap damages adding up to Rs 25,000, the bank said in its appeal before the state commission, Delhi.

The commission held that even after adding up the dues on the card, the amount did not cross the credit limit of Rs 95,000 and there was no justification on the part of the bank in declining Mohan a transaction of Rs 3000. This amounted to deficiency in the service rendered by the credit card company and therefore it did not see any reason to interfere with the decision of the district forum. (Standard Chartered Bank vs Shri Raj Mohan, appeal no A-335/2002, decided on February 18, 2005).

Consumers in similar cases have a remedy before the consumer court. However, as a matter of abundant precaution, before leaving on a holiday or even business trip, check your card details and ensure that your spending remains within the credit limit on your card.

However, if you are unjustifiably denied the service promised to you, or the bank comes up with terms and conditions which were not told to you earlier or that were not part of the contract or agreement, then you have every right to demand compensation for any inconvenience caused due to such an unfair trade practice.

Besides the consumer court, you also have remedy in such cases before the Banking Ombudsman and also the Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission.