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Abu Dhabi: Debt-ridden residents in the UAE are increasingly feeling harassed and threatened by collection agents who are out to recover payments from them, social workers claim.

They said with several expats who are unable to repay bank loans and credit card dues facing legal cases, the alleged harassment by debt recovery agents is adding to their misery.

“I cannot even begin to tell you how many such cases have come to my notice in the past one year. Many victims are scared to report the harassment as they are already in a legal mess,” said A.K. Sethunath, an Indian social worker who has been doing voluntary community service in the UAE for three decades.

Sethunath, who has represented several community organisations, claimed he has personally intervened with banks in some cases where debt-ridden Indian expats could not cope with their situation.

“Recently, we came across a case where the collection agent was using abusive language and threats to recover credit card payments from an expat. We filed a complaint with the bank and it took action against the agent,” said Sethunath.

Citing similar instances, another social worker in the capital said, “I won’t say all collection agents are trouble-makers. But many believe in arm-twisting customers into paying. I know of cases where these agents go to the workplaces of defaulting customers and create a scene.” One such victim is a single mother who has an outstanding of Dh50,000 on her credit card. She claimed recovery agents from a UAE-based bank were hounding her for the money. She said, “They constantly call me, sometimes up to 10 times a day. They have been threatening me saying they will get me fired from my job. They have even complained to my HR department.”

A divorcee with two school-going children, she said, “I ran into financial problems and I could not pay the full monthly instalments towards my dues. My last payment was on June 19 and the bank promptly filed a case against me. I have secured a bail and the case is in the civil court. On top of all this, I have to deal with the collection agents who are forcing me to pay the full amount in one go.”

Embarrassment

Another expat said collection agents came to his workplace last week and embarrassed him in front of his colleagues and managers.

“Two men came to my office and told me that unless I pay them Dh10,000 on the spot, they will get me arrested. They told my colleagues too that I will go to jail soon. Yes, I have some unpaid credit but I am not a criminal,” claimed the contract engineer.

Legal experts also spoke of incidents where clients have been subjected to threats and abuses by debt recovery agents “We represent many clients who face civil cases for defaulting on bank payments. Many of them complain of harassment from agents while the case is ongoing,” said Abdul Aziz Al Amri, an Emirati lawyer.

“When a bounced cheque case is referred to the court, the judge imposes a monetary fine on the defaulting customer instead of a jail term. Banks can file a civil suit against the defaulting customer and the case will take its legal course. But often, what happens is banks do not have the patience to wait for the legal verdict, and as a short cut, they use debt collectors to recover money,” said Al Amri.

Debt recovery agents, on their part, deny allegations of harassment.

“Our job is to recover debts, not to threaten people,” said one agent employed by a private bank. Denying the use of any pressure tactics, he said agents contact the workplaces of defaulting customers only when they refuse to answer their calls.

A well-known bank told XPRESS, “As per our policy, defaulted accounts are allocated to collection agencies beyond a certain period of time, irrespective of the legal case status. These collection agencies are responsible for following up with customers for the outstanding liabilities.”

Another international bank, which has a code of conduct for external debt collectors, states the agents should, under no circumstances, act or behave in such a manner that causes embarrassment or harassment to the customer.

With several Indians caught in the debt trap, outgoing Indian ambassador T.P. Seetharam advised community members to be wise in using credit cards and availing loans. “Why should one person possess six credit cards? That itself is an invitation for disaster.”

Dinesh Kumar, first secretary, community affairs at the Indian Embassy, said victims can contact the Indian Workers Resource Centre’s toll-free number 800 46342 to seek expert advice from legal and financial expats.

What you should do if a debt recovery agent contacts you:

-Verify his identity before taking calls

-Explain your situation

-File a complaint with the bank if you feel harassed

-Meet bank representatives to negotiate a payment plan

-File a police complaint if things get out of hand