Shylock was holding a knife behind his neck. Drenched in sweat, Vikram woke up and reached for water and the phone rang. The caller introduced himself as a lawyer from Delhi and cautioned Vikram that an arrest warrant was on his way.
He suggested a remedy as well – pay the entire outstanding amount on his credit card to XYZ bank.
Vikram had stopped repayment of the outstanding amount on his credit card three years back and the sum the caller demanded from him included accrued interest and a certain fine, which made it virtually impossible to be paid in a day.
Vikram was shocked by the unexpected call and more by the amount he was required to pay. He decided to seek a lawyer's advice on this.
Three hours had gone by and Vikram was on his way to the lawyer as his mobile phone rang again. The call was from Delhi again. But this time the caller said he was a police officer and asked Vikram to make the payment immediately or meet the police at his doorstep. With the second call, Vikram got a little suspicious.
Cases have been aplenty wherein banks resort to odd means to recover debts that are overdue for more than three years. Three years since the date of execution of documents, last transaction or acknowledgement of debt, banks virtually have no legal remedy under the Indian Limitation Act. In such cases, it has been reported time and again that anti-social elements like goons get the job done. Goons, it is learnt, are paid half of the amount recovered as their commission.
"People are forced to pay out of fear. Banks also file criminal cases against defaulters, of what actually is a civil matter. There have been instances where the defaulters were booked for cheating and breach of trust and confidence, even after the Supreme Court held that borrowing and defaulting is not a criminal offence," says CV Giddappa, general secretary of The Credit Card Holders Association of India (CCHA).
Further, people get fake phone calls threatening arrests. If they do not pay up even after that, they will be harassed in front of their family and public, he says.
The association has been receiving complaints of harassment and threats from a wide range of professionals. In one case, a person was required to pay Rs 47,000 against an actual liability of Rs 10,000. Though the association is not satisfied with the way the police and judiciary handle such matters, it finds some comfort in consumer courts. The association now wants to take up the issue with the Human Rights Commission.
Recently, in the Prakash Kaur vs ICICI Bank issue, the Bangalore Consumer Forum slapped a fine on the bank for threatening the appellant for non-payment of his credit card dues.
"What do I do now? I cannot pay in such a short notice," Vikram told the lawyer.
"Wait for the next call. Get it recorded. Ask them to send someone to collect the money from you. Catch them and hand over to the police. The recorded conversation could be used as a secondary evidence and we can claim some compensation from the bank," said the lawyer.
In a recent judgement, the Chennai consumer forum slapped a fine of Rs 10 lakh on a foreign bank. The petitioner got a part of the sum as compensation and the balance went to the consumer fund.
Under such circumstances one has to consult a lawyer or approach associations like the CCHA for help. CCHA provides a lifetime membership at a fee or Rs 500 and bears all the legal expenses of its members apart from providing suitable advice to them.
So, the next time you see the shadow of Shylock, don't panic. Instead, invite him home to take the money.