Debt Collectors' Shaming Tactics

I sympathize with the businessman who had recently been threatened and humiliated by debt collectors because of a bill dispute.

I believe these unscrupulous debt collectors are also engaged by unlicensed moneylenders and "Ah Longs" to recover loans from debtors.

I had an unpleasant experience with a debt collector who was engaged by a Ah Long claiming that I owed a fruit farmer a petty sum of RM2,000.

When I started oil palm replanting in my plantation in Pagoh, Johor in the early 2000s, I issued two free licences to two fruit farmers to cultivate fruits between the young oil palm trees on my land. One farmer was to plant watermelons and the other papayas and bananas.

The watermelon farmer, Boon (not his real name) was a young and a successful farmer. He was also a big-time collector and distributor of fruits in the region. He owned a warehouse in Pagoh, a fleet of lorries and had a work force of over a hundred foreign workers, a big scale operation in a cowboy town!

More than a year after he had worked on my land, Boon and his workers suddenly left my plantation. After enquiry, I was told that he was out of town but no body knew his whereabouts.

I immediately sent him a letter threatening to determine the licence agreement. Soon after that, Boon telephoned me and confirmed that he wished to terminate the agreement but asked me to consider compensating him for clearing the land and for the fertilsers left behind in the plantation.

After a few negotiations over the phone, I agreed to compensate Boon RM12,000 subject to removal of all pipe networks installed and all rubbish including all plastics left in the plantation. I drew up a letter to mutually terminate the licence agreement, paying him an initial sum RM10,000 with a retention of RM2,000 which would only be released to him upon satisfactory clearing the area of all rubbish within two weeks.

The termination agreement was executed and I handed him a cheque of RM10,000. However, two weeks later there was no sign that the rubbish would be removed. I subsequently wrote to Boon to inform him of the situation and forfeited the RM2,000 retention money.

There were rumors in Pagoh then that Boon was in debt due to gambling and was detained by Ah Longs. He was kept in secret hideouts and at all times he was accompanied by at least one representative of the Ah Longs. His duties were mainly to liquidate his business, collect debts and dispose of all his assets to pay his debts.

A couple of months after the mutual termination of the licence agreement, my office in Shah Alam received a call from a man called "Jimmy" who told an admin staff that I owed Boon money and if I didn't settle it immediately, he would deal with me in my plantation! The whole office was panic-stricken but I told the staff to tell Jimmy, if he called again, to telephone me in the office at 10am the next morning.

As expected, Jimmy called the next morning and told me that I owed Boon Rm2,000. I explained to Jimmy the whole story and told him that I had all the documents to show that I owed Boon not a single red cent.

Jimmy appeared to understand the situation, but contended that, as they had come all the way from Pagoh and stayed in KL for a couple of nights, I should try to defray some of their expenses. I wanted to tell them to get lost but on second thought, I wanted to experience firsthand meeting a debt collector and also to show him that I could not be easily cowed. So I told Jimmy and Boon to come to my office by about noon and I would try to help wherever I could.

While waiting for them to come, I got ready an amount of RM1,000 in cash and prepared a letter for Boon to acknowledge that with this payment he had no right to any further claim and his presence in my plantation would not be welcome. I also instructed all the technicians on the ground floor to come upstairs and a couple of female staff on the first floor office to go downstairs when Jimmy and Boon arrived.

At about 12.30pm they came. Jimmy was in his twenties and did not look like a rough and tough guy, while Boon looked depressed and weak. We sat round a small table surrounded by all the male staff.

With all my relevant documents, I explained and proved to Jimmy that I owed Boon nothing while Boon did not say a word. Jimmy was convinced and told Boon that "Uncle Toh" was right!

Nevertheless I shoved the cash in front of Boon and told him to take it or leave it. If he decided to take it, he had to sign the acknowledgement letter and not to bother me any further. But if he chose otherwise he and Jimmy would not be able to leave my office because all exits in my office had been locked and I would have to call the police.

Without hesitation Boon accepted the cash and signed the letter, which was witnessed by Jimmy.

They wasted no time in leaving my office. That was the last time I saw Boon.

Many unlicensed moneylenders and loan sharks have chosen a quick way out by engaging debt collectors who would not just use threats and harassment but also shame tactics to get payment.

In my case, why Jimmy had to telephone my office and alarmed my staff when Boon knew very well that I seldom went there and he had my house and hand phone numbers?


The above was published in Star Two on 18/07/06. 2008