Are You Being Scammed By A ‘Lifetime Free’ Credit Card?

Think twice before you fall for rosy promises of lifetime free credit cards, writes Aarti Nagraj.

As soon as I finished signing the documents required to open a bank account in Dubai, the salesperson from the bank immediately switched to the topic of credit cards and began the spiel of why I should sign up for, not one, but three cards.

After he concluded his efforts on trying to impress me with the “amazing offers” they had, I had one simple question: ‘Will I need to pay a membership fee?’

“No, Ma’am,” he assured me. “It’s a lifetime free card and unless you miss payments consistently or default on any loan, there will be no problem,” he smilingly said.

I persisted, since with the plethora of “free” cards in the market, I didn’t want to opt for one where I had to pay an annual membership fee.

“Are you sure there will be no fee?”

“Certainly ma’am, don’t worry,” he confidently nodded to me.

So I took the leap and signed up for the card.

Back at home, I told my husband the happy news – “ I never have to pay a fee for my credit card.”

Rolling his eyes, he gave me the look reserved for the dim-witted. “There is no such thing as a free card. I am sure they will charge you for it at some point.”

A short and pointless argument later, we buried the topic and laid it to rest.

Last week, as I rapidly scanned my credit card statement, my eyes stumbled upon an unfamiliar item. There it was, the annual membership fee, charged to my account.

Enraged, I immediately pulled out the salesman’s card (luckily, I had it safely tucked away in my wallet specifically for such situations), called him, and questioned him about the fee.

He told me that it must have been a mistake and that there were a lot of people complaining about a similar issue this year. All I had to do was ring up the call centre and complain about the problem.

“It should be rectified,” he assured me, adding that if it wasn’t, all I had to do was threaten to cancel the card, because that would force them to change their minds (since I was an exemplary card-holder who paid all my dues on time). “They wouldn’t want to lose a good customer,” he said.

I berated him about the appalling way the bank treats its customers, but decided to go ahead with the plan and lodged a complaint through the call centre.

After being promised that I would receive an answer within two days, I was pleasantly surprised when the salesperson called me precisely two days later.

“Actually ma’am, the card is not a lifetime free card,” he apologetically told me. “It is only free for the first year.”

It was a sincere mistake on his part, he said, adding that since the fee amount could not be reimbursed, his department would provide me with a gift voucher for a store (Dhs50 more than the fee I paid) as compensation.

As I listened in a mixture of frustration and resignation, he suggested that since the fee would be valid until December, I cancel the card after that and opt for an actual “lifetime free” card.

“Also ma’am, if someone rings you from the call-centre, please just tell them it’s settled, because otherwise the blame will come on me and I may lose my job,” he slowly added.

After refusing to lie on his behalf – though I have not received the call yet – I settled the case after receiving the voucher.

While I am not sure if there really was/is a lifetime free card or if the salesperson just duped me, or if it was, indeed, an honest mistake on his part, I have decided to be even more wary next time.

And yes, if you are wondering, I got the “I told you so” from my husband.

Aarti Nagraj is a business writer for Gulf Business.