Challenging times for debt recovery agents amid pandemic

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A debt collection agency shares footage of a dramatic experience with a debtor.

With eight years' experience under her belt, Mrs Lyn Ling thought she had seen everything in the debt collection business.

But that was until Sept 17, when she and a colleague found themselves in the harrowing situation of desperately holding on to a female debtor who was trying to jump from a 13th-storey ledge.

"We went to her flat to serve her notice and talk to her as she had stopped paying her renovation loan," said Mrs Ling, 35, founder of Fast Debt Recovery Specialist.

"Suddenly, she shouted at us, unlocked the gate and rushed towards the ledge outside her unit."

Before dashing out of the flat, the woman had said in Mandarin: "I can let you see my two bank accounts, the total is zero. I jump down now for you to see."

Mrs Ling's colleague Gary Tan, 39, said: "She may have been small in size but she was strong and struggling violently."

As the screaming woman raised one leg onto the railing, Mr Tan pulled her away by the shoulders while Mrs Ling gripped her legs.

For the next few minutes, the pair held on tightly to her.

The woman eventually regained her composure and Mrs Ling called the police for help.

Mrs Lyn Ling, founder of Fast Debt Recovery Specialist, and her colleague Gary Tan found themselves in a harrowing situation last month when they visited a debtor who had lost her job and whose husband was bankrupt. ST PHOTO: ZAIHAN MOHAMED YUSOF

Mrs Ling said the woman had lost her job and her husband was bankrupt. But the woman's problems were not caused solely by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Two of three debt recovery companies The Straits Times spoke to said their business has risen since April, when the two-month circuit breaker to stem the spread of Covid-19 was imposed.

Debt recovery agents are hired when debtors go missing or ignore telephone calls by financial institutions. These agents are legally allowed to pursue debtors on behalf of creditors, in contrast with loan sharks.

Ms Yvonne Ho, general manager of Singapore Debt Collection Service (SDCS), said the number of cases that the company handles has increased by 30 per cent a month since April. These cases include debtors defaulting on their obligations, such as personal and car loans, and renegotiating to pay smaller instalments.

Likewise, there has been a rise in the number of debtors who refused or were unable to repay loans ranging from $2,000 to $300,000.

"We have seen a significant number of people who were retrenched or saw a drop in their incomes due to the Covid-19 outbreak," said Ms Ho, 29. "Some business owners have also been unable to pay rent due to the economic downturn."

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, SDCS handled between 50 and 100 cases a month on behalf of car leasing, construction and renovation companies. Recently, the figure has exceeded the monthly average.

But JMS Rogers, another debt collection firm, said the number of cases it handles has dropped from about 70 a month to fewer than 10.

Mr Roger Rajan, 49, owner of the firm, attributed the drop to bankrupt companies declining to pursue debtors as they do not wish to incur costs.

Mrs Ling says that while she has a job to do, she strives to help both the client and the debtor.

A win-win situation in these challenging times is to recover some payment for the client from the debtor.

Mrs Ling said she is able to help a debtor only if he cooperates.

"We are concerned about the debtor's financial status and want to know how we can help," she said.

"There are options for debtors to apply for government grants and subsidies, and we can advise them on the documents they need."

In the case of the female debtor, the woman has been given a deferment up to next January, when she is expected to begin repaying her loan.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2020, with the headline Challenging times for debt recovery agents amid pandemic. Subscribe