Are you one of the many who have either not withdrawn from their provident fund (PF) accounts or not transferred the balance when you switched jobs? Here's some bad news : Reports say through fake withdrawal claims, fraudsters have siphoned off money from about 20 million provident fund accounts. Many of these accounts have a negative balance. Usually, the targets are accounts kept idle.
If you are one such accountholder, start the recovery process as early as possible. "First, find out when and how the money was withdrawn. The Employees' Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) has records of withdrawals. Check the records for the signature on withdrawal slips. If it doesn't match yours, bring it to the notice of the EPFO and file a claim for your money. It should help you," says Ameet Hariani, managing partner of Hariani & Company. If EPFO doesn't allow you to access its records, you could get the information through the Right to Information (RTI) Act, though that would take long.
If EPFO doesn't come to your rescue, you could also approach the Provident Fund Commissioner or the labour ministry, apprising them of the situation and seeking your money. However, for this, one has to be very patient. "You can file a case within seven days of contacting the EPFO or any other authority, if there is no law under the EPF Act stipulating a timeline for EPFO to get back to you," says Sajid Mohamed, partner at PDS and Associates.
As far as the legal route is concerned, there are three possible ways of recovery: First, file a writ petition against EPFO. The court could first ask you to investigate and submit your findings to it. If the ruling is in your favour, the court could ask EPFO for its version and give a final order. Or, you could also file a civil suit to recover the money, says Anil Harish, partner, DM Harish and Company. Second, you could approach an Ombudsman, if there is one. Third, you could check if the case is admissible under the Consumer Protection Act and, accordingly, file a recovery suit.
New PF Commissioner K K Jalan says, "If a fraudulent activity comes to our notice (lower balance than that deposited) at the time of processing a claim, we pay the accountholder from the special reserve fund and recover the money from the fraudster(s) on our own. The accountholder need not be involved." He denies reports of fraudulent withdrawal from PF accounts.
To avoid such situations, it's best one stay vigilant. Many employers give you an annual receipt of the total PF deposited in your account. If your employer doesn't, you could ask for it. These days, checking the account balance has become easier, as one can do this online, provided you know your account number.
And, don't miss transferring or withdrawing from the account when you switch jobs.