Gulf Law at Gulf News 26 August 2015


'Free for life' credit card lands man in jail

Man claims he had requested the bank to waive the fees or cancel the card 10 months ago

Published: 21:00 August 26, 201519Gulf News

Dubai: An Abu Dhabi-based Indian expatriate slammed a bank for allegedly sending him to prison for a bounced cheque case on a credit card he claimed to have never used.

Irfan Ahmad Mohammad, 31, said he was wrongly imprisoned after a bank bounced his security cheque following non-payment of his credit card dues.

Mohammad said he got a credit card from a bank in September 2013 but never used it at all. He said the agent told him that the card was “free for life”.

A year later, Mohammad, himself a banker, said he received a statement from the bank stating he had pending annual membership fees of Dh200.

Mohammad went to the bank the next day and requested the bank to either waive the fees or cancel the card through a hand-written request which the bank received on September 7, 2014.

“Because I never got a call from the bank, I visited it again. On my third visit, the bank official who was dealing with me took note of my complaint number, scanned my letter and emailed it and told me ‘It will be done’,” Mohammad toldGulf News.

No retail purchases

Ten months later, in July, Mohammad received a call from police.

Thinking it was a minor traffic violation, Mohammad went to the police station and found out that the bank had used his blank security cheque which then bounced and was used to file a case against him.

“I never used the card, not even a single dirham,” Mohammad said.

A copy of the bank statement dated July 23, 2015 that Mohammad providedGulf News stated he had an outstanding balance of Dh4,509 for membership and late payment fees.

It did not contain any items on personal or retail purchases.

“They sent me to jail for nothing. I have a wife and school-age children who were worried for me. My job was at risk. It was unbearable,” he added.

Mohammad was released after paying Dh5,000. He claimed that throughout those 10 months, he never received a single call or email from the bank stating that he had pending dues.

This was because he thought that the issue was settled during his last visit in September the year before.

When contacted, the Corporate Communications Department of the bank said that it investigated the complaint and said that they did contact Mohammad on this issue.

“The customer was advised and contacted on numerous occasions by the bank to settle the balance in order to close the card which he didn’t. Henceforth, the matter was escalated to the authorities after which he agreed to do the same,” the bank said in a statement.

“There was an unsettled outstanding balance when the customer requested to close his account in September 2014,” the statement read.

It is unclear, however, if this outstanding balance referred to here is the same membership fees Mohammad had earlier requested to be waived or else cancelled.

Atty Barney Almazar, a licensed UAE legal consultant and partner at Gulf Law who helps expatriates with debt cases, said problems like this could be avoided if bank clients read the fine print of any bank products and any contract they sign.

Verbal promises, which agents often give when offering the card, do not hold up in court.

So, residents should always ensure that the cards they have are actually “free for life” according to the bank documents itself.

In cases when cards arrive via courier and no actual contract is signed, Almazar said residents should still be careful.

“Read the welcome kit that comes with the card. Read the fine print. And don’t get a card that you don’t need unless it is really 'free for life'.”

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