I worked in Dubai last year and signed up for three credit cards from three different banks. I then had a family emergency and returned home to Mexico, as my father was hospitalised and later died. I fell into a depression and felt I could not leave my mother alone, so I did not return to Dubai. I have struggled to find a job and have not paid my credit card dues for seven months. My debts are:
Credit card 1: Dh32,000
Credit card 2: Dh8,000
Credit card 3: Dh7,000
I started receiving emails from the banks about the unpaid debt but did not reply as I do not have the money to pay. Now I am also receiving emails from debt collection agents saying they have filed a police case against me over my security cheque, as well as criminal and civil cases in the courts and an immigration ban. They also mention that my details have been registered with Interpol.
I sent an email to the agents saying I want to repay the debt but they need to give me a chance to pay in affordable instalments. Is it possible my name is registered with Interpol for this amount? Also, I read that it's illegal for banks in the UAE to ask for security cheques from customers against credit cards and loans. According to the article, these are rules stipulated by the Central Bank of the UAE – is that true? What do you suggest I do? LG, Mexico
Debt panellist 1: Keren Bobker, an independent financial adviser with Holborn Assets
My first question has to be why you took out three credit cards. One card is useful for emergencies but taking out three and running up debts is not a wise move. I am sorry you have family issues but failing to repay is a breach of the agreement made and the banks are well within their rights to take action against you. Any bank is likely to take action if payments are missed for months and there is no communication.
While you have now replied to your creditors, you are the one ‘at fault’ here and any lender is going to seek to recover what is owed to them. That is not unreasonable even if certain banks or debt collectors are overly aggressive in their tactics. I suggest you fully explain your financial situation and then offer a payment plan. You need to show willing, and start making payments to get the banks to be more amenable.
Interpol, the International Criminal Police Organisation, despite media portrayals, is not an international law enforcement agency and it does not concern itself with low level personal debt of this nature. It acts as a liaison between countries for the monitoring of criminal activities, including financial transactions. While the UAE is a member of the organisation, it is not for the purpose of seeking out those with personal debts in the UAE, especially at this low level. I think it highly unlikely Interpol would be at all interested in your case and believe this to be a ridiculous threat by a debt collection company, which is intended to frighten people.
You indicate there is a police case against you due to a bounced security cheque. The rules regarding bounced cheques in Dubai changed in 2017 so anyone who bounces a cheque of Dh200,000 or below is only subject to a fine rather than criminal proceedings. In your situation, however, the banks can register a police case for missing three monthly repayments and that is a criminal offence.
Per UAE Central Bank regulations regarding bank loans issued in 2011, which do not appear to have been rescinded, banks should not request security cheques. Article 15 of this states: "Banks and finance companies are prohibited from taking blank cheques for granting loans or overdraft facilities, or for issuing credit cards." This is still common practice as banks want security and, as the cheque was given and since been encashed – and you are in arrears – there is little you can do about this now.
Debt panellist 2: Philip King, head of retail banking at Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank
I’m sorry to hear of your personal circumstances and it is understandable as to why you need to remain with your mother at this time. Despite this, you have to appreciate the banks’ predicament and that they need to recover the money you owe them. Before you made contact with the agents, the banks won’t have known of your particular situation and would have followed the same procedure as for any abscondment case. You could have avoided this by writing to your banks to explain why you had to return to Mexico at the earliest possible stage while also reaffirming your commitment to pay off your cards. This may have prevented the banks mandating debt collection agencies to pursue the Dh47,000 you owe.
You should now aim to find employment as soon as possible in Mexico so that you can begin repaying the card borrowings. This will be welcomed by the banks and may allow you to renegotiate the amount owed into lower instalments once they see that you’re willing to pay back the debt.
It is not illegal for banks in the UAE to ask for security cheques for a specified amount when customers take out cards and loans; it is only blank cheques that cannot be requested.
Debt panellist 3: Ambareen Musa, founder and CEO of Souqalmal.com
The sticky situation you've found yourself in is all due to a bunch of avoidable mistakes and misconceptions.
First, why take on credit card debt? It is unarguably the most expensive form of debt with average annual interest rates close to 40 per cent. Given this very high rate and accumulating late payment charges, your outstanding debt would have already multiplied and become a lot bigger over the last year. Your best bet would be to negotiate an interest and late payment penalty waiver in favour of a lump-sum repayment of your original debt.
Second, ignoring emails and reminders from the bank was a bad idea. The bank has already listed you as a defaulter and rolled over your debt to the collection agency. Unfortunately, most people don't realise that it's easier to negotiate and cut a repayment deal with banks instead of debt collectors. These collection agencies are infamous for hounding and intimidating borrowers, and you're already facing their threats even on a different continent.
Third, based on the details provided by you, you have fallen victim to some of the most common scare tactics used by debt collectors. It is highly unlikely that an organisation like Interpol will get involved in a personal debt recovery matter of this scale and nature. You've already expressed your intention to repay the debt, and that's a good start. Have a rational discussion with the debt collection agency, explore all repayment options and negotiate a repayment plan that works for you. And last of all, always remember to keep a record of all communication you have with the bank or debt collectors for future reference.
Regarding your question about the security cheque, it looks like you handed over a signed and undated security cheque at the time of applying for the credit card. If this cheque was deposited by the bank and it bounced due to insufficient funds in your bank account, you may be liable to pay a fine.
Since you're unable to come back to the UAE, you could consider getting legal counsel to assist with your case. A local legal representative in the UAE can help negotiate with the bank on your behalf. They can also give you a clear picture of whether there have been legal proceedings initiated against you and how you can remedy the situation.
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