I have been receiving numerous calls from a debt collection agent enquiring about a former colleague. I am told he has an outstanding debt and has defaulted on credit card payments.
However, I am not responsible for this person’s debt. I have not cosigned a loan or guaranteed a debt on his behalf.
The debt collection agent calls me on my mobile phone number and disturbs me while I am at work.
Despite repeatedly telling him that I am not in touch with my former colleague, the debt collector continues to harass me to find out his current whereabouts.
I am at my wits' end and these calls are disrupting my work and peace of mind.
How could the agent have procured my number even though I am not in touch with the debtor? I am worried the agent will trace me in person next and continue this harassment.
How can I put an end to these calls? Can I call the bank to lodge a complaint even though I have no details of my acquaintance’s debt? Please help me. MM, Dubai
Debt panellist 1: R Sivaram, executive vice president and head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD
Under UAE law, only the person who has signed the loan or credit card application is the one accountable for all debts incurred.
Unless you are named as a co-signer or guarantor of the loan, you will not be held responsible for the debt.
However, your colleague may have given your name and number as a reference while applying for the product and that could be the reason you are being contacted.
I would recommend that you tell the agents to stop calling you, as it is illegal for them to do so.
If you continue to have trouble with the debt collectors, file an official complaint with the bank and subsequently with the Central Bank of the UAE if the issue does not get resolved.
It’s best to send this information via certified mail and keep a copy of your request for your records.
I wish you the very best in getting this resolved at the earliest.
Debt panellist 2: Jaya Ratnani, managing partner at Freed Financial Services
When availing of a loan or a facility from the bank, a person needs to provide a reference name and number of an individual in addition to the home country address and phone number.
This information is used in case of emergency or if the customer cannot be contacted.
A debt collector is not allowed to contact a third party more than once unless requested to do so by that person.
In other words, if a debt collector calls a customer’s parents or co-worker, they cannot call again unless that person asks them to call them again.
It is illegal for a debt collector to try to collect a debt from a family member or friend that does not owe the debt.
For example, if a spouse incurs credit card debt, their partner is generally not responsible unless they were a co-borrower for the debt.
In some cases, a debt collector may try to harass an individual that does not owe the debt with the hope that doing so will put pressure on the actual customer to call and make a payment.
It is advisable that you take the agent’s details such as their full name and contact number, and then raise a complaint through the bank’s contact centre about your situation.
Banks usually take this breach very seriously and appropriate action will be taken immediately.
However, if the bank does not respond to your complaint, you can escalate it to the UAE Central Bank through their website with the reference number of the complaint filed with the bank and against the employee.
Debt panellist 3: Alison Soltani, founder of Leap Savvy Savers
I am sorry to hear that the debt collection agent has been harassing you — that is a stressful situation.
It is possible that your former colleague gave your number as an emergency contact or as a reference when he took the loan.
Many financial institutions secure the services of debt collection agencies to help recover debt.
The agent’s job is to ascertain the reasons why the debtor defaulted on the payments and help them to plan strategies to pay back the money owed.
However, they have a professional responsibility to refrain from harassment, including several calls or emails in a short period of time.
They do not have the right to approach you in person at your place of work or residence.
Therefore, if you have not signed to take any responsibility for the loan, you should not be contacted regarding the payments.
The first course of action will be to block the agent’s number, and if they call from other numbers, make a note of them and do not answer the calls.
Next, I would contact the bank to lodge a complaint. Document the number of times you have been called and give the questions you have been asked, as well as the agent’s and debtor’s names.
Should the bank not reconcile your complaint in a satisfactory or timely manner, you can lodge a complaint with the Central Bank of the UAE. You can do this via the form on their website or by calling 800 CBUAE (800 22823).
You can also file a complaint with the police at your local station. Explain that you feel unsafe due to this harassment.
Your situation may be filed as a harassment case at the court. The law is in your favour as debt collection agencies have a responsibility to act professionally when resolving debt.
Repeatedly asking you the same question after you have provided the relevant information conflicts with the agent’s duties.
Finally, if your former colleague does happen to get in touch with you and cannot pay their debt, you could recommend that they research and apply for insolvency.
This is a fairly new law in the UAE, which aims to work with the creditor and debtor to reach a mutual agreement of payback terms and conditions.
I wish you the best of luck in resolving your issue.
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 email@example.com