In a case of mistaken identity, a collection agent of a bank harassed and threatened a bank customer for over a week to settle a credit card loan that he had repaid five years ago.
The bank customer says he was mentally distressed and his blood pressure shot up after a loan recovery agent called and messaged him, asking him to repay more than Dh300,000 to a leading bank in Dubai.
Speaking to Emirates 24|7, Noushad P K, an Indian auditor in the UAE, said he was deeply worried for about a week after the caller asked him to settle the outstanding amount within two days or face legal action.
After harassing him for about a week and suspecting that a clearance letter that he produced could be fake, the agent came back to apologise to him.
“I had a personal loan and credit card with the said bank but all the outstanding liabilities were cleared about five years ago.I was shocked to get such a call from a rude recovery agent who told me about credit card dues of Dh17,000 five years ago, which had multiplied to about Dh300,000 now. I checked all the documents and contacted the bank manager seeking his clarification. The branch manager too said I had a pending credit card due to the bank,” said Noushad.
The communication from the collection agent was copied to bank officials. “Dear Noushad Mohammed, On behalf of our client (name of the bank withheld), we would like to bring to your attention that we had sent several payment reminders and we are yet to receive your repayments.
“Since the terms of your payment agreement with the bank has been broken, we are left with no choice but to ask you to immediately settle your debt with the bank,” said the collection agent in an email, adding that the customer has an outstanding amount of about Dh300,000 on a principal amount of Dh17,000.
“Considering your previous prompt payments, we will settle your account at a good discount,” the e-mail message said.
“We have been trying to contact you on the telephone numbers as per our records but have been unsuccessful. We request you to please email or call us back as soon as possible to update your contact details and agree on a settlement plan. If we do not hear from you within the next two working days from the date of this letter, we will commence legal action against you to recover the outstanding amount on your loan plus all associated fees and expenses incurred. Please note that interest and charges will continue to accrue until the entire outstanding amount is paid,” the collection agent’s message said.
“I am regularly taking medicine for high blood pressure and this call for settling Dh300,000 within two days increased my BP considerably.
“I tried to remain calm and searched all my documents and found a copy of the clearance letter issued by the bank on March 9, 2010. But when I showed the clearance letter’s copy to the recovery agent, he did not accept it as genuine,” added Nosuhad.
“The bank even issued me a new credit card in 2013 and as of now I don’t have such a huge liability to the bank,” he added.
“The collection agent claimed that I had a second credit card on which dues of Dh17,000 was pending for five years.
“”They said the clearance letter was issued for a personal loan and a credit card only. The agent checked with the bank whether the clearance letter is genuine. I approached the bank again and they too suspected the clearance letter,” Noushad.
“The caller offered me a settlement at a discount. I did not know what to do and sought opinions of my friends and colleagues,” he added.
“After exchanging many e-mails and several phone calls, the collection agent came back to me to say that they had contacted me by mistake and another bank customer with the same name owed an equal amount to the bank. They sent me a regret letter by e-mail and stopped harassing me,” Noushad said.
“When I had cleared my loan and credit card dues to the bank, I had asked them for a clearance letter and to shift my salary transfer to another bank.
“Despite all these, the bank came back to me five years later through a recovery agent, which was embarrassing and humiliating,” Noushad said, adding that he is seeking legal advice.
The final regret letter that Noushad got read: “Dear Mr Noushad, We would like to express our deepest regret for the inconvenience caused by this unintentional and rare mistake.
“As this email was sent to you erroneously, we have removed all the details from our system and you will receive no further communication from us.”
Speaking to 'Emirates24|7', a senior official from the collection agency, said: “I apologise if the customer felt embarrassed. The debt recovery that we do is on the basis of information provided by the bank. We call up each client on behalf of the bank based on the information entered in the system by the bank.
“If a customer has a clearance letter, please show it to our agent to avoid problems,” he said, adding that defaulting customers usually hide their identity and collection agents have to use harsh methods to compel them to repay their dues.
“We are doing our work professionally and such problems crop up rarely.”
Bindu S Chettur, legal consultant with Mohammed Mohammed Salman Advocates and Legal Consultancy, told 'Emirates 24|7': “Bank customers have to be careful to get a clear and concise clearance document from the bank, showing zero liability to the bank. Banks have their own unique way of giving such clearance letters. However, no agent has the right to threaten or harass customers without proper authorisation from the bank.”
“A clearance letter will be useful in court and if bank customers feel that they are being threatened or harassed, they can lodge a complaint with Dubai Police. It is better to record such conversations as a proof to present in court. To obtain recordings of phone conversations from telephone companies would require a court order,” she said, adding that recovery agents sometimes resort to strong-arm tactics but customers have to be firm with them.
“Even if they are put in jail, take a bail with passport and when the case comes up in court for hearing, they can still defend their case. No collection agent can abuse a customer even if he owes a million dirhams to the bank,” she said, adding that her firm had handled several such cases," Chettur added.