Dubai: You don’t have to remain a victim of loan sharks. You can fight back.
Dubai resident Tracey Cummins wanted to teach this lesson to her nanny when they helped her beat an illegal moneylender — or loan shark — in his game of threats, manipulation and harassment last month.
In the past, Gulf News has published several reports on loan shark victims in the UAE recounting their horrific experiences. But Cummins and her nanny’s story stands out: they broke free from the loan shark’s deadly grip.
And they’re speaking out to help educate and empower other victims to fight for their right, too.
Cummins found out that her Filipina nanny, Melanie (name changed), had borrowed Dh10,000 from a loan shark in 2015.
Her passport was the guarantee — another illegal act. Melanie had paid the loan shark a total of Dh17,000. But the loan shark claimed that she still owed him the principal amount of Dh10,000. The agreed interest rate was 10 per cent or a whopping Dh1,000 per month in interest alone.
“We felt that there was no way she would give this guy another penny because she had already paid him back in the first year with 120 per cent interest!” Tracey, a school administrator from Ireland, told Gulf News.
Tracey and her husband, Mark Gaffney, were determined to help Melanie. They researched what to do and sought legal advice from Attorney Barney Almazar, a licensed UAE legal consultant and partner at Gulf Law who helps Filipinos with debt issues.
He said his office normally gets around 10 requests for assistance through email every week and most of them from housemaids or those whose salary is less than Dh3,000 a month.
Armed with a demand letter, Tracey and Mark contacted the loan shark and told him to return Melanie’s passport. He didn’t budge — at first.
“Then he started backtracking. He tried to claim that he was a friend. I pointed out the fact that friends do not give loans and charge interest. Friends do not write contracts. Friends do not withhold passports. Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, he’s trading illegally and he’s breaking the law,” Mark said.
The loan shark, Mark said, made Dh37,000 out of the Dh25,000 he had lent to Melanie and her friends in one contract.
Under the Penal Code, charging of usurious interest or transactions are prohibited. No one can also withhold anyone’s passport as it is owned by the government that issued it.
Tracey said the loan shark’s tactics had evolved over the years. His earlier “contracts” with Melanie’s friends, who also owed him money, bore his passport and visa number. They then used this information to their advantage and the loan shark eventually gave in.
Within a week, Melanie’s passport was back in her hands and they cut all ties between her and the loan shark.
“At the end of the day, the loan shark was just a bully. He was playing on the fact that he was loaning money to people who didn’t know their rights and were susceptible to bullying and threats of deportation if they don’t pay up,” Tracey said. “We wanted to empower Melanie at the end of the day.” Threatening borrowers is always the way to go for loan sharks.
“They would always want you to live in fear because that’s how they make money. So the best recourse to fight these abusive practices is to show them that you are not afraid, that you know your rights and that you are able to defend your right,” Almazar said.
“They will always tell you that they will file a case against you — they cannot! They don’t have any right to do so. It is you who has the right to go to the police. It is you who can access the court.”