Tuesday, April 25, 2017

3653) LOAN SHARKS CAN RUIN LIVES - NEW SUNDAY TIMES - 25/4/2017

IT was just past midnight when Sue called me, her voice trembling “Uncle, I must see you now,” she said.
This was the only coherent sentence she produced.
This was about a year ago. With that kind of desperation in her voice, how could one say “No”.
When she reached my house, it was almost 1am. She came with her husband and two children. The couple looked worn out, while the children were sleepy.
As soon as she sat down, she poured out her heart. Before that, she told her husband to go to the front gate and check if they were followed.
This was what she saidin between sobs: “My husband took a loan from an Ah Long (a loan shark) a few months ago. We had nowhere to turn to. A friend suggested we get help from a friendly unlicensed moneylender.
“In the beginning, he was helpful. We had to go through the normal process when borrowing from an Ah Long. The first thing was to have our identity cards photocopied. Then he followed us to our house. The house was photographed, inside and out. We didn’t know whether this was usual or not, but we were told to comply. Which we did.
“Documents were signed. The following day, we went to the Ah Long’s office and took the cash. Immediately, an amount was deducted for advance payment.
“We were told repayment must be prompt. If that was not done, the interest would increase. We had no choice. Unknowingly, we had walked into an arrangement from hell.
“We managed to keep up with the installments twice. After that, we had problems. We got back on track again, but things really went south after two months.
“Hell began for us. My husband was followed everywhere. The Ah Long sent his men to follow him to his office. At one point, they made a ruckus at the office canteen. It was embarrassing. Worse, it was scary. I was followed, too, and had my pictures taken. I didn’t know why, but I guess it was not for anything good.”
I couldn’t get a word in when Sue was talking. She was almost hysterical.
“One day a group of men came to our house and pasted notices on the gate and car. They shouted warnings to us. My neighbours knew that I had borrowed money from an Ah Long and did not make repayments.
Mana nak taruk muka? (Where can I hide my face?). These people started calling my office. I realised what a mistake I had made.
“How can you help me, Uncle?”
Sue is in her early 30s, which is why I’m addressed as uncle. Her husband just listened quietly.
In a situation like this, there was only one person I could call. I called Datuk Nadzim Johan from the Malaysian Muslim Consumers Association. Nadzim has been battling these illegal moneylenders for years with considerable success.
His team of very dedicated activists would meet these Ah Long to try and negotiate some form of settlement. There are tricks of the trade that he won’t share, but there have been notable successes over the years.
Nadzim told me to bring Sue and her family to meet him in Wangsa Maju. He called one of his negotiators. It was way past 2am before we went home.
They were advised to move out temporarily. The idea was to take the heat off the family and to avoid further trouble.
A settlement was made the next week that saw Sue going back to her house. But she eventually moved out. The Ah Long stopped harassing them and she has managed to recover her life.
She sent me a short message on WhatsApp, thanking me for bringing her case to the consumer association.
“My family and I are grateful we have our lives back. I’ve learned a very painful lesson.
“Thank you, Nadzim! You guys make a huge difference to people’s lives!
20170425 - LOAN SHARKS CAN RUIN LIVES - NEW SUNDAY TIMES

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