Five moneylenders' licences suspended and one revoked

SINGAPORE - Five moneylenders had their licences suspended and another revoked in the first six months of this year, after they were found to have breached the rules.

The Registry of Moneylenders, which comes under the Ministry of Law, told The New Paper that it had received a total of 137 complaints in the first six months of the year.

Last year, the registry received a total of 271 complaints.

These figures are a sharp rise from 2011, when there were 93 complaints. In 2010, there were 67 and in 2009 there were 18.

Examples of these include complaints about moneylenders' debt collection methods and high borrowing costs, a registry spokesman said.

The registry can issue a stern warning to errant moneylenders and suspend or revoke their licence. If they are taken to court, they can be fined up to $40,000, jailed up to two years, or both.

There are currently 202 licensed moneylenders here, down from 211 last year and about 260 the year before. Over the past five years, they have lent about $350 million annually.

The president of the Moneylenders' Association of Singapore, Mr David Poh, said the many complaints against licensed moneylenders could be due to changes in rules governing them since June last year.

These include a cap on interest rates and a ban on charging administrative fees - which have altogether "totally restricted profits", he said.

Mr Poh added that the association is aware of cases in which moneylenders send letters to a debtor's human resources (HR) officer.

To curb harassment, the association is considering having a list of recommended debt collectors, to discourage its members from employing those with bad records, he said.

Missing

A staff member at a licensed moneylending firm said it approaches a debtor's HR department when a person is "really missing in action", such as ignoring telephone calls.

The woman, who declined to be named, said it was in the contract that collectors could approach a borrower's home or office.

Overall, stricter control of debt collection activity is needed to stop undue harassment, said Credit Counselling Singapore general manager Tan Huey Min. Creditors often out-source debt collection to organisations that are paid a commission based on the amount collected and are thus serve as motivation to exert pressure for payment, she said.

"The authorities should consider legislation to have debt collectors registered and licensed. Regulations could be enacted to control their activities, such as spelling out what debt collectors can and cannot do, and the hours in the day which debtors can be contacted."

Rogue licensed lenders

- Persistent knocking on the door of the borrower's residence, sometimes with an empty can.

- Repeated shouting of the borrower's name outside his residence.

- Chaining the borrower's gate.

- Uttering of rude or vulgar remarks over the phone or in person.

- Placing letters of demand on the exterior of the borrower's residence.

- Turning up at the borrower's workplace, sometimes with an enlarged photo of the borrower.

Depending on the facts of each case, such acts may constitute harassment, violent or threatening behaviour, or vandalism, which are offences under the general criminal law, a spokesman for the Registry of Moneylenders said.

Borrowers who encounter such behaviour from licensed moneylenders or their debt collectors should report the matter to the police.


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