'Loan shark' harasses maid and her employers

A threatening message sent to Ms Gen's employer on Jan 8.
A threatening message sent to Ms Gen's employer on Jan 8. PHOTO: SCREENSHOT COURTESY OF ANGELINA

It was just after Christmas when Gen, a Filipino domestic worker in her 30s, began to receive threatening text messages and calls demanding repayment. Her employer, who asked to be named only as Ms Angelina, told The Sunday Times: "The threats kept escalating... Every day he would demand another $300."

Ms Gen eventually ceded to the loan shark's demand to text a photo of her work permit, and later transferred $300 to a specified bank account in the hope that it would put an end to the harassment. But it only emboldened the harasser.

Ms Angelina, who works in finance, said that she was in the dark until her husband Paul received a phone call last Monday evening. "A man was swearing on the phone and saying you owe me money... It was almost unintelligible," she said.

In text messages that followed, a "Singapore loan shark" named Sunny issued threats, such as setting fire to the family's home, if their employee's debt was not settled.

The couple made a police report the same day, and the harassment has since stopped. Ms Angelina, 40, said she believes that Ms Gen was the victim of a scam.

The police confirmed that a report was lodged, and said that investigations were ongoing.

Centre for Domestic Employees chairman Yeo Guat Kwang has indicated that such cases may be rare, judging from the fact that it has not received reports of similar incidents before. "We will follow up to see if there is a scam targeting domestic workers, " said Mr Yeo, who is also chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre. "If necessary, we will step up education efforts on scams as well as the risks of borrowing money, particularly from unlicensed lenders," said Mr Yeo, who added that foreign workers in such situations can turn to both centres.

Employers who encounter similar situations should make a police report, said Moneylender's Association of Singapore president Peter Tan. He added that the association reaches out to foreign workers as part of its efforts to dissuade people from borrowing from loan sharks.

Mr Tan said he was aware of cases of foreign workers not only getting paid by loan sharks to persuade their friends and colleagues to borrow money from them, but also being recruited as runners. "We tell them not to fall into the trap of illegal moneylenders who tell them to splash paint or lock the doors of borrowers."

Maid agencies said cases of foreign domestic workers being targeted by scammers or getting entangled with loan sharks are rare, though the pressure of sending money back home can lead some to borrow from illegal moneylenders.

All four maid agencies contacted said that they had not received complaints from employers of their helpers borrowing money.

In 2016, an illegal moneylender who targeted Filipino maids was jailed for 44 months and fined $450,000 in one of the biggest such prosecutions. K. Ramakrishna Kannusamy exploited a niche market of mainly Filipinas working as domestic helpers in Singapore who were unable to obtain loans through legal sources, and charged interest rates of 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

The police advised members of the public who receive harassment messages or calls from unlicensed moneylenders not to respond.

They should block the phone number and lodge a police report. Information pertaining to unlicensed moneylenders can also be reported via the I-Witness portal at http://www.police.gov.sg/iwitness, the police hotline on 1800-255-0000, or the National Crime Prevention Council's "X Ah Long" hotline on 1800-924-5664.

All information will be kept strictly confidential, the police said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 14, 2018, with the headline 'Loan shark' harasses maid and her employers. Subscribe