I had never been chased by debt collectors before, until last week. It is not a nice experience.
It was all the more annoying because the bank that chased me made the mistake that caused them to chase me in the first place!
In my case it was all cleared up within a day or so with a phone call and an apology from the bank but it gave me a small sense of what it must be like if you are being hunted for real. And "hunted" is definitely what it feels like.
A couple of weeks ago I got a letter from my bank saying that one of my credit cards had been compromised in some unspecified way so they would be sending me a replacement card with a new number. So far, so good. A bit scary that they didn't say what had happeneed to my old card but at least they were being proactive about it.
The new card duly arrives. I cut up the old one and activate the new one. All good.
However around that same time my regular monthly direct debit is taken by the bank to pay the card balance. This is when the fun begins. The payment goes to the old card number but the bank has moved the outstanding balance to the new card that it has issued to me. So, on their systems there is one card with a healthy positive balance and another card with a missed payment. The result is chaos!
An alarm bell must go off inside the bank. "MISSED PAYMENT ALERT, MISSED PAYMENT ALERT". I have images of debt collection types in black ski masks swinging down on ropes and crashing through windows.
My mobile phone suddenly lit up with calls from a mysterious number. I ignored it a couple of times as I don't answer calls from numbers that I don't recognise but when it kept going off I answered and it was completely silent. How spooky is that. Now I'm worried. Who is this and how did they get my number?
Then it occurs to me to google the number. Up come loads of discussions asking "who owns this number?" and replies saying "it's such and such bank's debt collection department". Light dawns, but I am irritated that I'm being houned. As I'm busy at work, I make a note to call them later when I have a chance.
When I get home the first thing my wife says is that my bank has been calling and apparently needs to speak to me urgently. She is concerend. Is there a problem? One of my children mentioned that she answered a call from my bank. "What's that about, dad?" Those who know me will know that at this stage I am getting, how shall we say, erm, "focussed".
Before I called them, I logged on to the bank website to see if I could see what was going on. I tried to send the bank a message asking a question but a box popped up saying that I am blocked from sending messages and I must call debt collection immediately. Those who know me will know that at this stage I have grown horns, my eyes have gone all big and starey and I am speaking very slowly, quietly and deliberately. Yes, I. Would. Like. A. Cup. Of. Tea. Thank. You.
I call the bank. It is a short and quite focussed conversation. They start from the assumption that you are obviously in debt and that you've probably got some story to try to fob them off with. They've heard it all before. I speak in One. Word. Sentences. With a little help, they realise their mistake, apologise and call the dogs off. That didn't stop me getting three more silent, menacing automatic calls over the follow 12 hours though!
I think I must have got about ten called to my mobile and home in a 24 hour period due to their mistake, despite the fact that I had a big positive balance sitting on the old card plus quite large sums of money sitting in savings accounts at the same bank. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience and that was just for me who (a) hadn't actually missed a payment and (b) has been a senior executive in a bank so is quite capable of dealing with such things.
It made me wonder what it must be like if in these difficult times of job losses and so on, you really do find yourself in trouble and miss a payment. All hell must break loose. Imagine that you've lost your job. You have three or four cards. You are trying to keep the plates in your life spinning in the hopes of finding another job soon. You are under pressure at home. YOu are trying to be the breadwinner but you are feeling battered. YOu miss a payment. Can you imagine getting 30 or 40 calls to your home and mobile as the pack descend, just when you are at your most vunerable? The thought makes me shiver.
Talk about kicking someone when they are down. But, hey ho, this is life I guess, and as the old saying goes "if you can't kick a man when he's down, when can you kick him?"