Bank put my debt on Facebook, claims UAE customer

Consumer Watch: Bank customer says his banking details, and a message threatening to lodge a case for non-payment, was posted on his online page.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, May 26, 2012:      Indian expatriate Simon Pinto in his apartment in Abu Dhabi on May 26, 2012. Pinto claims that his family was threatened due to dispute over his credit card account. Christopher Pike / The National
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Abu Dhabi // Simon R Pinto first knew something was wrong when his wife called him from India.

"What you are doing in the UAE? A man has come to our house and threatened severe consequences if you do not pay the bank," she said.

A few days later, his daughter called to tell him something was wrong on his Facebook page.

"Morning, Daddy. I am surprised to see your banking details on your wall, and a message from the bank threatening to lodge a case against you for non-payment."

Mr Pinto, a health professional in Abu Dhabi, says his bank hired an Indian collection agency after he failed to settle with them.

"The bank is surely not permitted to approach me through social-networking sites. It should have sent me mail or come to my workplace," he said.  "In 2010, I had a tough time financially and owed some money to the bank, which I was paying regularly," Mr Pinto explained.

He believes the bank resorted to a collection agency because they could not reach him on the phone. But he insists he did not deliberately ignore any calls.

"During the day, I cannot take anybody's call because of my profession. I work in open heart surgery as a perfusionist. I enter the hospital before 8am and taking any mobile into the operation room may interfere with the machines," he said.

Putting his personal information online, Mr Pinto argued, was tantamount to "defamation, conspiracy and an unethical act".

By the time the bank brought in a collection agency, Mr Pinto had reached a settlement with them. After hearing what they had done, he said, he refused to pay another fil.

"The question is not about repaying the money - that's a small amount which I can pay them any time - but the question is why the bank threatened my family back home and put my personal details on a social portal," Mr Pinto said.

Although he lodged a formal complaint with the bank in January, Mr Pinto had not heard back from them.

When The National approached the bank, it said: "The customer holds several products with the bank. Despite protracted negotiations and an agreement from the customer on a settlement, he has not honoured his commitments."

The statement went on to claim they had sent a message to his private Facebook inbox.

"It was a private direct message that can only be read by the customer and his personal details were not mentioned in the message or made public in any way," the bank said.

"When the bank had tried all contact channels to amicably resolve the issue, our authorised agents visited Mr Pinto's home country address to locate him and collect the outstanding payments.

"In a final attempt to reach an amicable solution, we have offered Mr Pinto another settlement option," the bank added. He eventually settled his case after the bank agreed to issue a letter of apology.

A bank representative visited him at home with the letter and he signed a waiver before the debts were written off. The settlement brought him "great joy", he said.

Banks may legally make use of legitimate collection agencies on rare occasions where all other efforts to reach a settlement have failed.

If you feel that your bank is using violence or the threat of violence, a complaint should be lodged immediately with the Central Bank and with police if necessary.