These days, digital transactions are faster and more convenient, including loans from online lending platforms. Applying and getting approved for loans can already be done anywhere, anytime, and directly just by using a cellphone or laptop. As a result, online loans have become more attractive to cash-strapped borrowers.
Unfortunately, some online lenders resort to harassment and threats in collecting payments. According to news reports, online lenders were arrested for supposedly threatening clients (through text messages and phone calls) who were unable to settle their unpaid online loan in the Philippines.
There have been several terrible stories about the abusive collection practices of certain online lenders. If this is your predicament right now, this article will guide you on the steps to take if an online lender is harassing or threatening you.
Got an Unpaid Online Loan in the Philippines? Here’s What to Do If the Lender Harasses You
What to do if you’re a victim of online lending harassment? SLAP. This does not mean physically hurting someone. Rather, it is an acronym to help you remember easily: Stay calm, Learn, Arrange, and Pursue. Each of these steps will be explained below.
Step 1: Stay Calm
When faced with personal attacks from lenders or collecting agents, the instinctive reaction is to counter them with anger. It's easy to be upset; these are moments that will drain your energy.
When tempers flare, it clouds judgment. The best response is to stay calm. Don't let these unscrupulous individuals distress you.
Yes, you owe them money. But that does not entitle them to harass, threaten, or shame you. Insist on fair treatment. Reach out to the company and elevate to them your concerns. This is important because you must provide evidence or proof that you have reached out to the company or have exhausted all remedies against it when you pursue a formal complaint.
Take note that staying calm is the first step. If you allow heightened emotions to get in the way, it will be difficult to get to the fourth and last step.
Step 2: Learn
The familiar quote "knowledge is power" is also true in dealing with credit collecting agencies. Learn what they can and cannot do and what an unfair collection practice is. So, familiarize yourself with the rules and treat this as your ally against online lender harassment and threats.
1. What is an unfair collection practice?
Unfair collection practices are acts that lenders or their agents cannot do when collecting payments from borrowers. In collecting the amount due to them, lenders must resort only to reasonable and legal means. Or else, there are penalties if they are found liable for unfair collection practices.
2. What are the regulatory agencies that determine unfair collection practices?
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) regulates banks, credit card companies, and their collection agencies in the Philippines. It issued BSP Circular No. 454 Series of 2004, prohibiting banks, credit card companies, and collection agencies from engaging in unscrupulous or untoward acts. It also provided the list of those considered unfair collection practices (threats, insults, contacting before 6:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m., etc.).
For financing companies (FCs) or lending companies (LCs), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulates them. In 2019, it issued SEC Memorandum Circular No. (MC) 18, listing down conducts that are considered unfair collection practices. The list is also the same as those prohibited in BSP Circular No. 454.
3. What debt collection practices are considered unfair?
The following are considered unfair collection practices by FCs and LCs under SEC MC 18:
- Using or threatening violence to harm the borrower, his or her reputation, or property
- Using threats to take any action that cannot legally be taken
- Using obscenities, insults, or profane language
- Disclosing or publishing the names and other personal information of borrowers for allegedly refusing to pay debts (except those allowed under Section 2 of MC 18)
- Communicating or threatening to communicate to any person the loan information, which is known, or should be known, is false (except those instances allowed under Section 2 of MC 18)
- Using false representation or deceptive means to collect any debt or obtain information about a borrower
- Contacting before 6:00 a.m. or after 10:00 p.m. except:
- if the account is past due for more than 15 days; or
- the borrower gave express consent that only those times are reasonable or convenient opportunities for contact
- Contacting the persons in the borrower’s contact list (except the guarantors or co-makers)
Editor's note: Human rights advocate Atty. Chel Diokno also talks about online lending harassment and what can be done if you're a victim of one. Watch his video to learn more.
4. Can a collecting agent contact the persons in the borrower’s contact list if the borrower gave consent?
No. Under SEC MC 18, even if the borrower gave consent, the persons in their contact list (except for the guarantors or co-makers) cannot be contacted. Or else, such an act constitutes unfair debt collection practice.
Similarly, the National Privacy Commission (NPC) issued Circular No. 20-01, titled Guidelines on the Processing of Personal Data for Loan-Related Transactions, which prohibits online lenders from accessing contact lists or email lists for debt collection to harass the borrower or his/ her contacts.
Violations of data privacy fall within the jurisdiction of the NPC based on the Data Privacy Act. You may check the NPC website for more information.
5. Are lenders still liable for unfair collection practices even if they already outsourced their collection activities?
Yes. Even if SEC MC 18 allows the outsourcing of payment collection to a third-party service provider, the ultimate responsibility for collection practices and compliance with SEC MC 18 is still with the FCs or LCs.
6. What are the penalties for unfair collection practices?
Any violation of SEC MC 18 shall subject the FCs and LCs to the following penalties:
|Any of the following:
|Any of the following:
7. Are online loans legal in the Philippines? How to know if the online lender is legal?
A legally operating online lending company or platform in the Philippines is registered with the SEC. The SEC has posted the list of online lending platforms on its website. LCs and FCs with revoked licenses or Certificates of Authority are also posted on the SEC website.
The SEC issued the SEC MC 10 series of 2021, imposing a moratorium that no new online lending platforms will operate in the Philippines. It says that this was due to the numerous complaints that the SEC received relating to alleged violations by online lending platforms.
According to SEC MC 10, there is a need to closely monitor and assess the operations of existing online lending platforms to promote lending and financing businesses while ensuring the protection of consumers in the Philippines.
The SEC requires online lenders to report their operations to the SEC no later than 10 days before their launch. Otherwise, this is a violation of SEC MC No. 19, and there are penalties for this.
8. Can my photo be used to embarrass me and collect my overdue loan?
No. This violates NPC Circular No. 20-01, which provides that a borrower’s photo can be used only for Know Your Client (KYC) purposes. It expressly provides that in no way shall the borrower’s photo be used to harass or embarrass them to collect an unpaid online loan in the Philippines.
Step 3: Arrange
You may find yourself deleting text or email messages sent by the collecting agent who has been harassing or threatening you. Don’t.
Arrange and prepare these messages as evidence of the harassment or threats. Make sure that you put all the evidence and be as detailed as possible.
Filing a formal complaint before a regulatory agency or a court is like baking. Before you begin, you have to make sure that you have prepared all the ingredients.
In this case, you must have all the proof against the lender or collecting agent who is harassing or threatening you. Complaints that are filed in court or regulatory agencies that do not have enough information to support the allegations are likely to be dismissed.
Step 4: Pursue
"Where do I report online lending harassment in the Philippines?" Once you are armed with the information about your rights and your supporting documents, you can pursue filing a formal complaint with the regulatory agency (SEC, BSP, or NPC) to stop these lenders or collecting agents from abusive practices.
If it is a bank or a non-bank financial institution under the supervision of the BSP, you may file it with the BSP. You can find the list of banks and non-bank financial institutions on the BSP’s website.
Complaints against online lending companies may be filed with the SEC. You can download a copy of the complaint form from the SEC website. You must fill out this Complaint Form with all the documents, evidence, and proof to support your complaint and a valid government-issued ID.
As pointed out in Step 1, you must provide evidence or proof that you have reached out to the company or exhausted all the remedies against it before filing your complaint with the SEC.
Same with the BSP and NPC, the SEC also allows the filing of complaints via email. The SEC has likewise created a tutorial video to help borrowers easily understand the requirements for filing complaints against FCs and LCs. The SEC continuously intensifies its crackdown on abusive lending companies that engage in threatening or insulting borrowers.
Know your rights so that you can insist on being treated fairly. Reading articles such as this is a good start. There may have been horrifying stories about online lenders who harass or threaten borrowers with an unpaid online loan in the Philippines. But there are also those with a good mission and are not out there to make you their prey.
Keep an eye out for red flags, and always ensure that you are dealing with reputable online lenders in the Philippines. As with other challenges in life, debt problems can take a toll on mental health, but trust that you can surpass this.
See other Ask Moneymax articles:
- I Can’t Pay Off My Debt This Pandemic. What Should I Do?
- Dear Lender: Go Easy on Me! It’s Pandemic and I’m Bankrupt, er, Insolvent
- What is Credit Card Delinquency and How to Avoid It?
-  Online lenders arrested for harassment in Pasig (Manila Bulletin, 2022)
-  SEC MC No. 18 s.2019 – Prohibition on Unfair Debt Collection Practices of Financing Companies and Lending Companies
-  NPC's Mechanics for Complaints
-  SEC List of Recorded Online Lending Platforms
-  SEC List of Revoked and Suspended Lending Companies
-  NPC Circular No. 20-01 - Guidelines on the Processing of Data for Loan-Related Transactions
-  BSP Directory of Banks and Non-Bank Financial Institutions
-  SEC Complaint Form
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