IMAGINE THIS: Felix* was that classmate who was always coincidentally placed in the same class as you year after year. Back in primary and secondary school, Felix and you did everything together. He was there for you when you wooed your first girlfriend and you were there for him when his dad passed. You guys were the best of friends until the start of junior college which set you both on different paths. It was not only until 38 years later did you guys meet again. As fate would have it, Felix was the plus one of a client that you have invited to your company’s client appreciation event. And when you guys met, it seems like it was only yesterday did Secondary school end.
Felix was the managing director and CEO of his own distribution business while your passion in dollars and cents led you to a successful career as the Vice President of one of Singapore’s leading financial institutions. Felix and you started hanging out again and it seems like nothing has ever changed between the both of you. After all, he was your best friend since childhood. Surely, he will never betray you. Surely, those bounced cheques, unanswered phone calls and text messages are just pure coincidence.
Surely, Felix would not cheat his childhood friend of 1 million dollars?
For majority of Singaporeans, 1 million dollars is a distant fantasy but for Melvin*, 1 million dollars was the price he almost had to pay for trusting a wrong friend. In 2014, his childhood best friend, Felix, contacted him asking for an Investment loan of 1 million dollars.
“Felix was desperate” Melvin recounted. “He was keen to import a certain supplement to Singapore and had signed a deal to be the exclusive distributor for the product. Unfortunately, this new partnership meant that he had to terminate a contract with another vendor which resulted in hefty contract breach fees. He wasn’t worried at first as he was promised an Investment capital from another partner but the partner pulled out in the end. He needed the money to tide across the turbulent months and he promised to return me the loan in full within 3 months. He was my friend for more than 35 years, so without hesitation, I immediately got my assistant to make the necessary arrangements and the loan was disbursed and detailed in an IOU”.
Q1: Hi Melvin, thank you for agreeing to do this interview with our team. First question: At which point did you realise that you have been scammed of 1 million dollars?
Melvin: Around a year and a half after the monies were loaned to Felix. Actually, it was my wife who first suspected it (was a scam). She told me that it is impossible for Felix to be so busy to the extent that he couldn’t spare the time to write or replace a cheque, do any bank transfers, answer my phone calls or even reply a single text message. At first I tried defending him lah, I got my assistant to do searches for me online on Facebook and other websites to prove to my wife that Felix is a honourable man. It was until my assistant pulled up this forum thread where a few bloggers were complaining that he did not pay them for reviewing his products, a few ex-employees were complaining about not receiving their salaries and multiple claims from them stating that his office have moved/closed down did I then realised how jialat (“Hokkien for bad”) everything is.
Q2: I see. So after you have discovered that it was a scam, what was the first thing you did?
Melvin: Went home, got scolded by my wife, drank a lot of beers and then went to see my lawyer the next day. I decided to go ahead with legal proceedings against Felix and my lawyer prepared and sent a Letter of Demand to him from me which he ignored. At that time, I was quite determined to continue on with the proceedings until the sum of money is recovered but one of my close friends, the owner of a car rental firm, advised me against it. He told me that he did something similar to an individual before and end up not getting a cent back as there were laws that protects, or rather, govern the interests of bankrupts. So he gave me Lyn’s name card and ask me to try debt collection instead, he claims that Fast Debt Recovery buay pai, can try.
Q3: So what made you choose to appoint Fast Debt Recovery to collect your debt in the end? Melvin: To tell you the truth, I was hesitant and skeptical at first when I was told there was no collection guarantee. However, after contemplating for some time, I realise (that there was) actually no difference, (if) I proceeded on with the lawyer, there is no guarantee either. Plus, the administrative fee that Fast Debt Recovery seem more reasonable and affordable compared to the legal fees that I will incur if I went with legal proceedings. What I like the most about Fast Debt Recovery is that they are fast and they are independent, they never come ka chiao (“hokkien for disturb”) me and the whole experience was very nonsense and fuss-free. (Whereas) for legal proceedings, I have to keep going down to the lawyer’s office and stay there for hours. Lastly, I cannot deny lah, the methods (used) are very personalised and that appeal to me greatly. I’m quite sure that the successful collection is all due to Lyn’s consistent team visits to Felix’s home. Q4: What is the thing that surprised you the most during the collection?
Melvin: The politeness and kindness of the Enforcement Team. They might be clad in tattoos but they actually very nice and respectful to me, this old man. Secondly, the team managed to find out that Felix was not working alone and actually was working together with another person and had the intention to scam from the start. Q5: That sounds interesting! Could you elaborate?
Melvin: After checking on Felix’s company records, they realised that there is this person who seem to be constantly present as a shareholder, secretary or director in the companies that Felix own and have abruptly shut down. He was listed as a shareholder in the distribution business so they paid him a visit as well (during the engagement period). Apparently after the visit to this man’s home, the man’s wife had an argument with both Felix and her husband and left the home. They also visited the man at his office and I think when the man saw them at the lobby, he knew (that) this time (he) cannot run (from his problems) already. Actually, the man was the first to pay 1/2 of what is owed to me followed by Felix around 1-2 weeks later. Q6: Do you think you would have gotten back the money without Fast Debt Recovery’s assistance?
Melvin: I doubt it. Some of my friends, including the client of mine who brought Felix to my event, were cheated by Felix too and they have told me that Felix have not gotten back to their lawyers. Also, one of Felix’s employees is the niece of one of my staffs and I heard that she did not get her salary as well despite having a judgement from MOM. I think for people like Felix and Reuben (the man that was mentioned in Question 5), you really need people to look for them at their residences and offices for them to finally agree to pay the monies back. This kind of people send letters to them bo yong (“hokkien for no use”) one.
Q7: If you are given an opportunity to travel back in time to the day where Felix requested for the loan, what advice would you have given yourself? Or what would you have done differently?
Melvin: I believe that even if I were to advice myself then not to provide the investment loan to Felix, my past self would not have listened to me either. I think that if I could change something, it would be to tell my wife the truth and seek her opinion and advice before I provided the loan instead of keeping it a secret from her for months. When she discovered what I did, she was so angry. Q8: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs, business owners or anyone who is being asked to provide an Investment loan to their friends?
Melvin: Not all friends can be trusted, especially when it comes to money. It is true what they say (that) money is the root of all evil. Get a contract signed or make sure that there is an IOU to protect yourself. Your friend might tell you that it is not necessary and you may not want to appear too calculative but you don’t know how important that piece of paper is until it is the only ‘weapon’ you have that is strong enough to prove that you deserve to get your money back.
(This interview is conducted in Melvin’s office by Vanessa on behalf of the Fast Debt Recovery team. Due to the large sum of monies involved, the identities and names of all who are involved have been changed to be aligned to the laws of confidentiality and to uphold our ethical duty in respecting the privacy of our clients. We would like to once again thank Melvin for allowing us to conduct this interview, for supporting the Fast Debt Recovery team and for being a great client. We sincerely wish you the best in your future endeavours.)