I like to think of myself as a smart man and there is evidence to suggest I’m not mistaken in that view of myself. I’m quick witted, I have a high IQ, and I’m absolutely sure that Dubstep was invented by someone who wasn’t a cool kid at school and now wants to punish all of those who want to be cool kids in the future.
However, there is also evidence to the contrary. For example, once upon a time when the land was covered in darkness and the tormented roamed the streets (the ’90s) I opened a bank account with Barclays. Now, there are two sorts of people reading this. Those in other countries will be saying “Okay, well I suppose that was a mistake and we’ll learn why later on.”, but those in the UK will know that what I’m talking about is one of the shadiest institutions in the entire banking industry (itself not the cleanest of industries by a long shot). In my defence, I was young and the horror that was Barclays hadn’t yet come to light.
My account was used for my wages to be paid into and then I usually got the money out and paid for things with cash. One stolen wallet later (about a hundred of us got robbed at a convention centre while our belongings were supposedly in a safe room) and I stopped getting cash out and started to pay for everything on card. All was well with the world until Barclays made a mistake. Now this was a teeny tiny mistake where someone managing the accounts on their end somehow put the wrong sort code into the system and my money was no longer coming into my account.
Of course, by this point I was paying for everything on card and didn’t even notice there was a problem until the first letter. The letter was the standard one that banks sent in the ’90s. Something about me being overdrawn and how they were coming around to break my legs and those of my grandmother if I didn’t sort it out. So, being a man who loves his grandmother, I went down to the bank and did indeed sort it out. For over five hours I sat with the girl in the bank and we went through different departments on the phone (both with the bank and with my work), getting things faxed into the bank for comparison and checking out past transactions with both the hard copies and the very basic computer copies that were in place back then. At one point I got a friend to go to KFC and bought the bank girl a meal as well, as we struggled to find out first whether my account had been hijacked with transactions I hadn’t made and then where the money had gone when we realised it wasn’t coming in. We sorted it out, I got an apology from the bank and, as it was their error, they wiped all the six hundred pounds worth of charges they’d applied to the four hundred pounds overdrawn I’d gone.
A few months later I moved to a new bank as I’d lost all confidence in Barclays and didn’t want to risk having to spend an entire day in the bank again, trying to find money that they’d lost. I never forgot their error and was amongst the many who warned people off Barclays when friends were looking for a new bank account. And then, in 2007, they contacted me again. This time it was a debt collection agency on behalf of Barclays who had decided told me that Barclays had sold them my debt (a debt that was made of their own mistake and that had been cleared up eight whole years before this debt collection agency contacted me). I was angry for two reasons. Firstly, the debt didn’t really exist in the first place so they had no right to come after me for it. Secondly, even if the debt had been real, debt collection agencies in the UK are not allowed to try and collect on it after seven years. I informed the agency of both these facts in a letter and left it at that.
The second letter came a couple of months into 2008. The debt collection agency had sold my debt to another agency, it seemed, and now they wanted money from me. A moments research told me that the new agency were actually a subsidiary of the first one, and that they were well known for moving difficult debts between many different companies under their banner, in order to dodge the legal ways one of their victims could use to get them to leave them alone.
One by one I countered these letters, telling the companies that there was no debt and that I would be happy to see them in court if they were as determined to send me there as their letters claimed. One by one they sent my debt between themselves, swapping back and forth between an almost amazing number of companies. Every two months like clockwork a new company would have my address, and sometimes my phone number. Oh, those phone calls… They demanded to know my name before they would identify themselves, they were abusive if I pushed, and a few even called back and hurled abuse down the phone line at me whenever I hung up on them for refusing to identify themselves. I don’t like to think what sort of scumbags regularly sign up to work at these places, but of all the phone calls I got there was only one person who actually followed the few rules laid out for contacting someone from one of these agencies.
Somewhere during all the problems I contacted Barclays to ask them to get involved and show that a mistake had been made, but they said they couldn’t get involved and that all information had been sent along with any sold debts. I was on my own against a monster that this bank had unleashed upon me, for no other reason than that I used to have a bank account with them.
Finally, in 2012, the debt got sold to another company who didn’t seem connected to the first in any way, and they sent the usual letter to me. I got it to end with a very carefully written letter to them that listed not only the fact that I had never had a real debt, but the tactics used by the original company to try and bully me into paying anyway, and the number of agencies that I knew for a fact were owned by the original company. I included the first date way back in 2007 when they had been told that the debt was contested and, against the law, they sold it on rather than either provide evidence or wipe it out like they were supposed to. I even included the time and date of the phone call to that original companys offices when a very confused worker admitted that mine was the first account they’d ever seen that had no evidence listed to support the supposed debt. I heard back from the company and they seemed appalled by the circumstances and said the debt should never have been legally sold to them. They said I wouldn’t be contacted by them again.
In two years I haven’t been contacted by anyone over this supposed debt, then this past weekend I caught an article in the newspaper (that’s what us oldies used before the interwebs, kids). The article was about banks who had colluded with debt collection agencies in order to collect on debts that had never existed in the first place. Chief amongst them was Barclays bank. They’d put hundreds of thousands of people in this country through the same shit they’d put me through, and they’d been caught at last.
I’m telling you this tale because I was one of the lucky ones. It only took me a little over four years to get out from under this weight (though my credit rating is still in the toilet after it all) while others spent a lot longer suffering. Some of them, unable to take the constant abuse and threats of court or repossession of items, paid debts they never accrued. I know of at least one family whose six month old baby was targeted by these firms because he had the same name as someone on their list. I was one of the lucky ones, and I hope this tale will inspire you to be one of the lucky ones too.
All you have to do is never ever let Barclays bank anywhere near you or your money.