The Debt Panel: 'I lost my job and my debt has almost doubled to $32,675'

The former UAE resident is now back in her home country but is facing legal action from the bank despite paying $400 a month towards her credit card

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In May last year, my company unexpectedly decided not to renew my contract and I had to return to my home country.

At the time, I called my bank and told it that I was leaving the UAE because I had lost my job. I also cancelled my credit card as money had been stolen from it.

Because I left the country early, my employer couldn’t cancel my visa, which meant they held on to my end-of-service pay until December last year.

The bank allowed me to defer a month’s payment on the credit card but has yet to deduct the debt caused by the theft.

In September, I was able to find work in my home country and shortly after, also started graduate school.

I informed the bank’s debt collectors of my payment plan, my current bills and the financial hardship I was experiencing — I was defrauded twice in six months when I returned home — as well as my contact information.

Fast forward to today and my debt has now risen from about Dh70,000 to Dh120,000 ($19,060 to $32,675).

I have contacted the debt assistance office at the bank but no one is responding to me. I have been paying about $400 a month towards the debt since February, when my end-of-service cheque eventually hit my account after six months of fighting my previous employer.

The $400 monthly instalment is all I can afford at the moment as I have other bills to pay.

Even with all of my transparency and communication, the bank is claiming that I never responded to it and that I am not paying off the debt, which my emails and money trail clearly prove otherwise.

I am not able to pay as aggressively as they want me to and now they are attempting to file a legal case.

It is very frustrating because I am doing all I can to pay off the card. I am at my wits' end but also at the point where I want to give up trying to pay off the card as nothing I say or do is changing anything.

If they do file a legal case against me, should I stop paying the debt? And will I be able to go to other countries outside the GCC? Can you advise me on my rights? KK, US

Debt panellist 1: Sameh Awadallah, acting global head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank

I am very sorry to hear of your struggles and the frustration you are experiencing right now as this must be difficult to go through.

In your query, you have mentioned that the bank’s debt assistance office is not responding but someone from the bank is informing you that you are not paying off the debt.

I would suggest reaching out to the bank personnel to explain the situation — and show them the written evidence of your payments — and ask if they can put you in direct contact with the appropriate person to talk to regarding this matter.

I do not recommend you stop paying the debt at any point. You should maintain your legal obligations, which will prove critical in the event a case is filed against you.

Document all written correspondence and keep communicating with your bank every step of the way, even if they do not respond. This will all be useful evidence to have in both a legal and non-legal setting.

Debt panellist 2: Jaya Ratnani, managing partner at Freed Financial Services

I understand the pain and frustration that you are going through, particularly losing your job combined with the fraudulent activities related to your bank account.

When experiencing any form of fraudulent activity related to your bank account or credit card, it is important to notify your bank so it can immediately block the card, preventing any further transactions.

Banks are constantly updating their technology and authentication process, which has a two-layer protection. If the fraud has been confirmed, the money will be refunded by the bank.

If you are unable to pay the total outstanding amount owing on the credit card, you can contact the bank and request a settlement plan. The bank can consider a discount on the total outstanding based on your situation and waive the interest and charges.

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You would be required to provide a request letter with all supporting evidence such as the bank statement, request for cancellation of the card, fraud complaint filed and all previous communications.

The settlement plan can be either a monthly payment based on your current income or a lump sum. Please note that the amount of discount would vary if it is a single payment or a payment plan. The discount would be lower if you undertake a payment plan.

If the bank files a legal case, you would need to hire a legal representative and submit evidence to the court for your appeal.

You can request a settlement through the court and there would be an expert appointed to analyse the total payments made and the bank's claim.

This can be time consuming and expensive, so it is recommended to find an amicable solution through negotiations with the bank. You can also seek assistance from professional debt management companies, which can negotiate the best settlement plan on your behalf.

Debt panellist 3: Alison Soltani, founder of Leap Savvy Savers

It must be frustrating to have had to deal with the many challenges that have come your way.

Firstly, I would prioritise paying the debt and I would not stop payments as I don’t think this will help your case.

You did the right thing keeping your email trail as evidence that you are trying to pay the debt. You could also add your police reports from the incidents in which you were a victim of financial fraud and theft.

I would then recommend contacting the bank a final time to raise your complaint.

If it does not respond or provide you with a satisfactory outcome within 30 days, file a complaint with the UAE Central Bank's Consumer Protection Department through its website or call 800 22 823.

If your bank is successful in raising a criminal case against you, you may have difficulty entering the UAE.

However, the Dubai Police website offers a free service to check if you have a travel ban against your name if you plan to return.

Travel bans usually only happen if a person defaults on their debt, meaning that they do not make minimum payments for three to six months.

If your bank is not acknowledging the $400 you are paying each month, do check that everything is in order and that the money is being used to pay the correct account by requesting a statement.

It seems that you have a history of issues with this bank. Perhaps it might be an option to take out a loan with another lending institution in your home country and pay the debt of your current lender in full. You may also find a better deal in terms of interest rates.

Considering that you have also been a victim of financial fraud, it would be worthwhile to ensure that your financial security is stringent.

I recommend spreading your money over various banks to reduce the risk of a large percentage of your money being stolen and using different and obscure passwords for each account.

Finally, I sense that this debt has caused significant stress for you. It might be worth taking a look at your income and expenditure and assessing whether there are any areas in which you could cut back, even temporarily, until you perhaps receive a pay increase when you have finished your studies.

The Debt Panel is a weekly column to help readers tackle their debts more effectively. If you have a question for the panel, write to pf@thenational.ae

Updated: June 22, 2022, 5:00 AM
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