I relate this tale because I’ve discovered it is a common one and I hope that people will be encouraged to make public their experiences with credit unions and other financial institutions.
It is a story about an organisation that is founded on a premise of helping others with compassion, that acted within the letter of the law, but without regard for the benevolent spirit of its own conception.
In mid-June, my daughter purchased a car from a dealer in Chaguanas. The used car had been described as free from encumbrance, and after the mechanic checked it out, the deal was done.
Three months later, on 7 September, at nightfall, there was a knock on her door and a burly man identified himself as a bailiff hired by a well-known credit union to repossess the car.
Shocked and terrified, even as he showed her documents, she called one of her lawyer friends to find out if what was happening was legitimate. It turned out that the man who’d sold the car to the dealer was a member of the credit union and the car was collateral for a loan with them, which he was still repaying.
I heard this story through her tears as she described how the bailiff had driven into the gated compound and parked so that her car was blocked, then had a wrecker remove it. It meant that the security guards and neighbours would have witnessed this drama.
The following day was spent at the Fraud Squad office, waiting, relating, and going next door to photocopy documents. The officers duly recorded the matter and assured her they would be in touch.
Through her own efforts she managed to find the name and address of the original vendor, but when she tried to pass it on to the Squad members, she was told that they could not properly receive that information and she would have to wait until the assigned officers contacted her.
She contacted the man herself and he agreed to meet her at the Couva office of the credit union.
The collections officer greeted us with the complaint that she had just been about to have her lunch, and would only talk to us as a group because the timid young man, X, had agreed to our presence.
He’d told us outside that he had taken a loan and was being threatened that his ailing mother and disabled sister would be hurt if he did not immediately repay. Not trusting the police, and terrified, he had sold the car, and continued making his monthly payments to the credit union, hoping no one would be the wiser. We were sceptical.
But the collections officer confirmed his story, telling us that although X was a “good payer” and had not ever missed a payment for years, once their “informant” told them he had sold the car AND that he and his family were being threatened, they acted swiftly.
They sent him an e-mail, to which he did not respond. He said he might have mistaken it for one of their regular marketing e-mails. Instead of trying to reach him at either his home or work address, or calling him, they chose to hire a bailiff to confiscate the car.
As far as they were concerned, and she said this very clearly, their collateral was jumping up. And instead of the threats to him invoking some sympathy, they only added to their haste to get the car back, in case he was killed and their investment lost.
She proposed that he find some other form of security or they would sell the car soon. She told him he could write a letter asking for an extension, which he did, but they began to regularly let him know that the car would be sold unless he came up with something.
Eventually, seeing the distress to both my daughter and this hapless fellow, whose life has been difficult, I decided to dip into my own savings and pay off his loan, on the condition that he would redirect the monthly instalments (without interest) to my daughter.
It seemed that was the only way there was a chance of retrieving the car, and it meant a level of trust that he would honour the agreement he signed.
I called the collections officer to let her know and to discuss the form of payment. She complained that I always seemed to catch her before she could eat—this time it was breakfast—and she did not wish to tell me the amount to be repaid because I was not an “interested party”.
I suggested that as the person paying off the loan, I was, and that she had mentioned a figure before in the joint meeting, but I needed the exact amount. I won’t go into the details of the running around to get a manager’s cheque, only for her to tell me they would still need to hold it for ten days as there were many such forged cheques.
The bank was surprised by this, saying all she had to do was call the branch to confirm its legality. I cancelled the cheque and the money was then sent electronically, and it still took them three days to release the car on 13 October.
As for the Fraud Squad, they have not contacted us yet.
This is the callous nature of our institutions. Surprised?