What should you do when you face harassments from debt collectors?
By Peter Ong Lip Cheng
and Boo Kok Chuon
In light of the recent publication of harassment by debt collectors faced by politician, Lim Tean, one may wonder if debt collection agencies enjoy certain powers or privileges. It is a myth that debt collection agencies are “licensed” to conduct acts of harassments, they are in fact guided by a set of code of conduct prescribed by the Credit Collection Association of Singapore (CCAS).
About the CCAS
CCAS is an entity registered under the Societies Act as an organisation that officially represents all the credit associations and agencies in Singapore. Its principal objectives are to enhance the organization of the credit collection business community in Singapore and to represent, advance, promote and protect, in Singapore and abroad, the major credit collection concerns (such as professional credit collection conduct, behaviour, training etc) of professional credit collection agencies carrying on commerce and industry in Singapore . Though the CCAS sets out the industry’s code of conduct, it does not have enforcement powers over the conduct of the debt collection agencies.
Protection from Harassment Act
Notwithstanding that the CCAS may have limited powers over the conducts of its members, there are laws in place that restrict the activities that debt collection agencies can engage in. Particularly, the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) provides that any person, inclusive of the debt collection agencies, shall not:
- (a) use any threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour;
- (b) make any threatening, abusive or insulting communication; or
- (c) publish any identity information of the target person or a related person of the target person,
and as a result causing the victim harassment, alarm or distress .
Under the amended POHA which took effect on 1 January 2020, it further included Section 3(1)(c), which provides protection over “doxxing”, or personal information being published for the purpose of harassing the victim. If personal data is disclosed publicly in the publication, it may potentially result in further breaches of the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (PDPA).
If the perpetrator resorts to making threats to cause physical harm, he may further be subjected to offences under Section 503 of the Penal Code, which states:
Whoever threatens another with any injury to his person, reputation or property, or to the person or reputation of any one in whom that person is interested, with intent to cause alarm to that person, or to cause that person to do any act which he is not legally bound to do, or to omit to do any act which that person is legally entitled to do, as the means of avoiding the execution of such threat, commits criminal intimidation.
Though it may be less common in recent times due to the increase in deployment of enforcement cameras in neighbourhood, any attempt by debt collectors to spray paints or post any prominent signboards or banners on properties would subject to offence under the Vandalism Act, Chapter 341 .
Potential breach of COVID-19 Safe Distancing Rules under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) (P2HA).
Under the P2HA safe distancing measures, from 10 August 2021 onwards, only 2 social gatherings per day to a household is allowed . As such, unsolicited visits from debt collection agents may potentially cause this rule to be in breached.
Criminal implications on the creditor
If an offence is committed by the debt collection agent, the creditor that engaged in the service of the debt collection agent may potentially be implicated, as the creditor may be guilty of the offence of abetment according to Section 107 of the Penal Code, Chapter 224.
Under Section 107 of the Penal Code Chapter 224, a person is considered to have committed the offence of abetment if he:
- (a) instigates any person in committing the offence;
- (b) engages in any conspiracy for the doing an unlawful act in pursuance of that conspiracy
Therefore, the creditor who instructed the debt collection agent, may be seen as having instigated and/or conspired with the agent for the purpose of recovering its debt when the offence is being committed.
What should you do if you fall victim to the unlawful conducts of debt collection agencies?
If you have fallen victim to the unlawful conducts of the debt collectors, the most straightforward reaction is to lodge a police report.
If you suspect that there are doxxing involved, you may explore the option of commencing civil proceedings against the publisher with your lawyer; if there are harassments involved, you may also explore the option of applying for a Protection Order (PO) or an Expedited Protection Order (EPO) with your lawyer.
Alternative mode of debt recovery for creditors
If you are a creditor, you may also consider engaging in a lawyer to recover the debt through due process and enforcement as an alternative to engagement of debt collection agent. A lawyer can also assist you with the recovery through less destructive resolution mechanism such as mediation, which reduces the cost of debt recovery while preserving relationship. A lawyer will also ensure that the recovery process is professionally and legally conducted, while protecting your interests and your rights to enforcement.
Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act, Chapter 256A
Section 7 of the Protection from Harassment Act, Chapter 256A
Section 5 of the Protection from Harassment Act, Chapter 256A
Section 3 of the Vandalism Act, Chapter 341