London: Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan found it difficult to buy an iPhone from British mobile phones major O2 for the simple reason that he spelt his first name as `Venki` in the application form, a bizzare case that has led him to suspect an element of racism.
When Ramakrishnan, an Indian-American currently here, went to an O2 store in Cambridge in December last year, he was forced to pay a three-month deposit of 325 pounds when most applicants with good credit histories are not asked for a deposit.
Every contract with a new customer is subject to an automatic credit check using to credit reference agencies such as Equifax and Experian.
The rating is then used by companies to offer or decline credit.
"I am actually slightly suspicious that there is an element of racism at play here as well, since I can`t think of a logical reason why I should be denied credit," he said.
Ramakrishnan told a newspaper that he was outraged in principle that the company should require the deposit from someone so completely credit worthy he had been given loans in excess of 200,000 pounds for his house in Cambridge.
However, Sarah Taylor, an O2 spokeswoman, told a news agency: "I
was dismayed to hear that Prof Ramakrishnan would suggest that this decision was in any way related to race. Whilst we are honoured to have a distinguished Nobel prizewinner among our customers, I can assure you that every customer is treated exactly the same regardless of their race, creed or colour and in accordance with the law".
Taylor said: "In this instance I believe there was a discrepancy in the spelling or shortening of the customer`s name that meant we did not have access to all the information available on his file. It is the customer`s responsibility to make sure that these details match."
Ramakrishnan, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2009, was asked to a pay a deposit when the credit check process did not return the expected score.
He has since had an exchange of letters with the company, complaining against the treatment received.
According to him when making purchases in the past, he did not have problems even when using his first name as "Venki" or using just his initial.
"It was my impression that the programs are capable of distinguishing nicknames, since the postcode/address/last name and date of birth match. I`ve often just used my original initial," he said.
Ramakrishnan is based at the Medical Research Council`s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge.