Phan Tuan Khanh, a resident of Ho Chi Minh City, said that since January he had been constantly harassed by phone calls from individuals identifying themselves as employees from FE Credit, a financial company based in the city.
The firm was previously the Consumer Credit Division under local commercial bank VP Bank, before morphing into a separate financial institution in 2010, offering unsecured consumer loans.
“They called daily, sometimes even twice a day, asking if I knew someone by the name of Bui Thi Minh,” Khanh said. “Despite my repeated denial of such an acquaintance, they refused to give up.”
According to Khanh, the calls began on February 18 and persisted for over a week, with callers using different numbers to reach him at all times during the day, including at night and on the weekend.
Frustrated with the disturbance, when he received a call at 11:48 pm on February 28, Khanh demanded to speak to the caller’s manager, but was asked to contact the firm’s hotline for further information.
“He provided me with the contract number of this Bui Thi Minh, and told me to ask the call center agent to remove my phone number from her loan profile at FE Credit,” Khanh recalled. “I did that, but after two or three days the bombardment of phone calls began again.”
An, another reader who contacted Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper about her experience with debt collectors from FE Credit, said she had no idea who Mai Huu Dao is, except for the fact that the man had apparently provided her phone number as a “referral contact."
“What’s even more absurd is the fact that I have only been using this number since December 8, 2015, while the contract between the man and FE Credit was signed on July 1 the same year,” An said.
The nature of the conversations between FE Credit’s debt collectors and their ‘false targets’ has tended to range from polite enquiries to accusations and insults.
“They called and left messages using offensive language, and accused me of robbing them of their money,” said Sang, whose phone number had been given as a referral to FE Credit by a friend without his knowledge or consent.
Responding to Tuoi Tre’s request for comment, an FE Credit representative admitted that the firm’s debt collectors had targeted the wrong people in the reported cases because their numbers had been made available in the debtors’ loan profiles.
“We have now removed these types of phone numbers from our database and terminated debt collecting measures based on those numbers,” the representative said. “We will get in contact with those disturbed by our mistaken calls and deliver our apologies, as well as taking disciplinary action against the employees at fault.”
The FE Credit collection scandal has led experts to question its loan application and verification procedure.
“It should have first verified that the referral number provided by the loan taker was legitimate, and that the number’s owner had agreed to be contacted by the firm,” said Dr. Nguyen Tri Hieu, an expert in banking and finance.
Hieu said that the State Bank of Vietnam, which supervises all credit activities across the country, should introduce stricter regulations to protect citizens’ rights to privacy against debt collection harassment.
“The State Bank of Vietnam should require credit firms to gain permission from a phone number’s owner before the number can be added to their referral database,” Hieu said.