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Monday, Mar 08, 2004

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Now, bank customer info available on CD for a song!

Poornima Mohandas

Mumbai , March 7

EVER wondered where these telemarketing personnel from banks, hotels, insurance companies get your number from?

Well, you'll be surprised to know, it's easily available and inexpensive too.

The market rate is a mere 50-75 paise for every name plus contact details! There are said to be hundreds of unofficial agents floating around in Mumbai selling databases wholesale.

An agent this correspondent talked to sells databases of savings account holders of some of the largest banks in the country, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, HDFC Bank and Corporation Bank. The business thrives heavily on outsourcing carried out by these very institutions.

Said the agent, "I can provide a list of 4 lakh customers from all over India. The person's name, address, phone number and the bank he/she has account with, I can give you. If lucky, in some cases the bank account number will also be there!"

Asked where he sources it from, he reluctantly replied, "It's not very difficult to get. I have people who do data-entry for these banks."

The database is written on a CD and delivered wherever one requests for.

Incidentally, the RBI has expressed concern over banks sharing customer data with associates.

Banks, finance and insurance companies, hotels and travel agencies are the largest buyers of databases since high-decibel, telemarketing is on a roll with retail finance and tourism touching a crescendo.

"With banks/finance companies/telecom companies outsourcing various functions such as sales and marketing, data-entry operations, stuffing and sealing of account statements/bills into envelopes, photocopying documents to various small companies, customer information is not hard to lay one's hands on. Employees from these companies or outside agents connected to them often sell data for a song," said the sales head of a private sector bank.

"Right outside my bank there will be agents ready to sell our customer database to you," he adds casually.

On offer are also segmented databases, of taxpayers with the PAN and the company of employment as bonus pieces of information in addition to the general details.

If a company wants to tap customers by profession, lists are available of doctors, lawyers, exporters and chartered accountants by customer behaviour, such as buyers of white goods, credit card defaulters, customers of loans against shares, people interested in availing themselves of housing loans... . the list goes on and on.

Apart from individuals, there are direct selling agencies, courier companies, large registrars of public issues among others which are in this business.

However, there is no provision for individual privacy in this country at the moment. Protection mechanisms as in the US — `Do not call' lists and fines of $2,000 for violating it — may be sometime away in India.

Till then the phone will ring.

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