Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 November 2020

The Debt Panel: 'Can a bank create a security cheque without my signature?'

The former Dubai resident left a Dh13,000 credit card debt in the UAE when he returned to Mexico and is worried that he will be arrested by Interpol

Mathew Kurian / The National
Mathew Kurian / The National

I was living in Dubai in 2018 and working as a waiter when my father became very sick and was in the intensive care unit. I flew home to Mexico to see him, but he died one day after I arrived. I fell into a deep depression and didn’t have the money to pay for my flight back to the UAE and return to work.

During my time in the UAE, I applied for two credit cards with two separate banks: I owe Dh5,000 on one of them and Dh8,000 on the other. I haven’t made any payments towards the cards since I left Dubai two years ago.

I did not give the banks any signed personal cheques as security when I applied for the credit cards and also didn’t have a savings account with the two banks in question.

However, a debt collection agent acting on behalf of the banks claims that I gave them security cheques and says he will bounce them to bring a legal case against me, and also put a Red Notice on me through Interpol.

I have to travel soon and am worried that Interpol will become involved and I will be arrested. If I didn’t give the banks cheques, how can the debt collection agent say that he has them? Is it possible that the bank created security cheques in my name against the credit cards without my knowledge or signature? And can he register a Red Notice with Interpol to prevent me from travelling? I have never committed a crime and don’t know what to do. PF, Mexico

Debt panellist 1: R Sivaram, executive vice president, head of retail banking products at Emirates NBD

I am sorry to hear about the unfortunate turn of events that you have had to deal with. It is always advisable to settle all bank debts and close any lines of credit before relocating from a country so as to ensure you don’t face any potential issues.

As a first step, I would advise that you explain your situation to the bank and make it clear that you aim to clear your credit card balances. The amount you owe is relatively small, and the bank may agree to create a repayment plan that you can service even while residing outside the UAE. You could consider rationalising some of your personal expenses that will help you make regular repayments, as well as liquidating any personal assets to pay off your outstanding debts sooner.

In your discussions with the banks, ask them to confirm if a legal case has been raised and get their response in writing

Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

It is important that you are transparent with the collection agency and work with them to clear your debt, irrespective of whether or not they have a security cheque.

It would also work in your favour if you are able to find suitable employment at the earliest, if you have not been able to already, as this will help finalise a mutually agreeable repayment plan with the bank. I wish you the very best and hope you return to financial stability soon.

Debt panellist 2: Carol Glynn, founder of Conscious Finance Coaching

My sincere condolences for your loss. You have been through some very difficult and painful years. It must be very stressful to now receive such threats from a debt collection agent.

Regarding the debt collector, I would recommend trying to resolve the situation directly with the two banks in question. Debt issues can have a significant impact on our life choices and options, and having unresolved debt in the UAE could restrict you from returning to the region should an employment opportunity arise.

It also leaves you exposed to situations such as the one you are experiencing now with the debt collection agent. It is often difficult to understand if they are legitimate or not.

First, you need to reach out to the banks and speak to the most senior person possible, ideally someone with decision-making authority. Explain your situation to them, including your conversations with the debt collector. Request they provide you with the current outstanding balances, including interest, penalties and fines.

But be prepared: they will be substantially higher than the amounts outstanding as interest on UAE-issued credit cards can reach up to 40 per cent annually. With the compounding impact of such high interest rates being applied to both the original balance and the additional interest each month, plus late payment penalties and fines, the debt will multiply quickly.

Hopefully, you are now working in your home country and have the means to repay the debt in full or start a repayment plan. As you are in default and out of the UAE, the bank will likely favour the debt being paid in full rather than instalments over a period of time. It's possible they will reduce the penalties, fines or some of the interest if you can pay a lump sum to clear the debt.

If you don’t have the funds to make a lump sum payment, consider speaking to a local bank in your home country about a loan. It is likely cheaper to take out a loan with a Mexican bank and clear the UAE debt compared to making instalments while still incurring such high interest on the credit card debts.

In your discussions with the banks, ask them to confirm if a legal case has been raised and get their response in writing. If you are working with them to resolve the debt, it is less likely that a legal case will be raised against you.

Bouncing a cheque under Dh200,000 is no longer a criminal offence and is instead subject to a financial penalty

Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

Ensure you retain proof of all communications with the bank and debt collector. Any arrangements or conditions agreed on the phone should be followed up with a written confirmation of what was agreed by you and the bank representative.

Once you have repaid the debt, request a clearance letter. This will provide evidence and reassurance that the debt no longer exists and there are no legal cases against you in the UAE. Ensure the credit card accounts are cancelled as soon as the debt is repaid and also get confirmation of this in writing.

While the debt collector's threats are worrying, stressful and no doubt distracting, my suggestion would be to focus on finding a way to repay the debt in the quickest time frame possible. This will reduce the total financial cost to you while also permanently removing the debt, the stress and uncertainty associated with it from your life.

Debt panellist 3: Steve Cronin, founder of DeadSimpleSaving.com

Getting to say goodbye to your father was priceless, even though it has triggered some financial difficulties. If you have recovered and are now earning a salary, this is why it is important to have some money set aside as a cash buffer against unexpected problems.

While many Interpol Red Notices have been issued against people with UAE debt in the past, this is not possible in your case. Bouncing a cheque under Dh200,000 is no longer a criminal offence and is instead subject to a financial penalty. As such, it does not meet the criteria for a Red Notice.

If you say you did not provide security cheques, which is unusual, then they have even less leverage against you. Still, debt collectors are persistent and can make your life difficult. However, you will be able to travel anywhere you like without difficulty, except to the UAE if there is a police case against you.

Credit card debt is problematic because the high interest rate and penalty fees rapidly grow the outstanding debt you have. If the collector is chasing you for Dh13,000, you might want to consider paying it off. If there are large fees and interest on top of this, you might want to contact the banks in the UAE and see if they will negotiate to pay only the original balance or an amount closer to that.

Ignoring the debt will be tricky with a collector on your tail. It may be possible for a bank, friend or family member to lend you the money, then you can pay them back at a much lower interest rate than a credit card charges.

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: November 17, 2020 04:46 PM

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