14 February 2007

A cash explosion

Three strangers phoned me yesterday. They wanted to lend me vast sums of money. R10 000, R15 000 and R20 000. Overdraft, personal loan and credit card. Should I feel rich, or what?

Three strangers phoned me yesterday. They all wanted to lend me vast sums of money. R10 000, R15 000 and R20 000. Overdraft, personal loan and credit card. Should I feel rich, or what?

What fascinated me was that two disembodied voices described me as a valued client. I don’t have an account with either of them. Of the one bank I had never even heard. What’s next? Winning the Portuguese lottery without buying a ticket? OK, but that’s another story.

I might have just been fired for embezzlement, have maxed out my existing credit cards, pushed my shop accounts to their outer limits, stolen other peoples’ credit cards, become homeless – but on paper I am still a valued client, until the first whiff of blacklisting comes along. Then no one wants to know me.

Number withheld
The first sign of trouble in the offing is that these calls from the financial institutions are invariably made by someone called ‘Withheld’. Why won’t they let me see who is phoning, unless they have something to hide?

But don’t be fooled. These people are not your friends. They want to lend money to you at staggering interest rates. There’s a lot more in this for them than for you. Even if the disembodied voice asks how you are. Believe you me, they couldn’t care less if your eyebrows caught fire or if you landed under a minibus taxi. Unless you still owed something on that staggering loan.

Crushing debt
And speaking of staggering – by merely whispering ‘yes’ three times yesterday, I could have been the proud owner of R45 000 of debt. Just to service this could cost me upward of R1 000 per month. If I were lucky. But no one mentioned that at all.

There seem to be a few requirements for being the lucky recipient of these calls. You must have a cellphone, have registered a normal body temperature somewhere in the preceding two weeks, have a job of any description at all (part-time, temporary, freelance, once-off – all welcome) and not have been convicted of grand larceny and subsequently spent 20 years behind bars. Nineteen will probably be fine, though, so mind your step.

I don’t know what I want, but I want it now, seems to be the new mantra. New car, new patio, overseas trip, jewellery, golf clubs, a new kitchen, designer clothes. Now, now, now. And someone else will pay for it. Fall for that, and you could be classed with adults who believe in Santa Claus, or the Tooth Fairy. Welcome to the Land of Debt, Self-Delusion and Insomnia. Denial is after all not just a river in Egypt.

Musical chairs
I’m struggling to bring my current credit card under control (Down, Fido). I don’t want another one. Or two, or three. I don’t want to play musical chairs with all four of them by shifting cash from one to the other. I have enough trouble juggling work, home, friends, cat, occasional sanity. I don’t need to add to this burden.

What can we do? Firstly, we can demand to know which low-life sold our cell numbers and details (Is nothing confidential?). Secondly, we can just not take any calls from ‘withheld’ and thirdly, we can close our accounts if we keep getting pestered by our banks.

Tomorrow morning I am going to go out and buy a large wooden box (cash) to put under my mattress. From now on I am banking with Sealy. At the rate I spend my salary, it’s all gone in a day or two anyway, so there’s no security risk. But there’s a nice man in the shop who is offering me finance, so I can buy a box inlaid with silver. Easy terms. No kidding.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, February 2007)

Read more:
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