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27 mei 2014

Poor families are prey for criminals

It is not easy to be poor. Not only do you have to survive each day, thinking of how to make the next meal for your children. Also, there are countless people and organizations that want to trick you in a new loan. JOEP DERKSEN reports.
More than 150 families with children in the province of Groningen experienced firsthand what it feels like to be outsmarted by somebody. They believed the idle promises of Bureau Integraal, owned and led by one man. Bureau Integraal promised its clients to help them get out of debt. For this ‘assistance’, the families had to pay a fee and they all obliged. Hoping that this man would rescue them out of their daily misery. But the only thing that criminal did was put the money in his own pockets. Something good did come out of this situation, however. The inhabitants of Groningen collected food and supplies for the duped families.
Also, the Groninger Kredietbank (credit bank from Groningen) has supplied these families with ‘leefgeld’ (money to be able to live) from the foundation ‘Urgente Noden’ (urgent needs). With this assistance, the 150 families managed to be able to pay for their food and drinks. This money was a donation and the receivers did not have to pay it back. Even more so, the municipal council made sure that none of the families were kicked out of their houses because of the wrongdoing of Bureau Integraal. This was a real threat for some of the families, since they could not pay basic costs such as rent, the water bill or electricity expenses. They had given money to Bureau Integraal to take care of these payments for them, but the owner annex sole worker kept that money for himself, leaving the victims in even more dire circumstances. Bureau Integraal has now been declared bankrupt.
Sadet Karabulut is Member of Parliament (Tweede Kamer) for the Socialist Party (SP). She has been fighting these criminal debt negotiating organizations for years already. ‘Many people, who are in financial difficulties, are victims of agencies that want to make profit out of other people’s misery and debts. The government says that the market should regulate itself, but this does not happen. Private debt negotiators should adhere to legal standards. These standards should be set up by this government’, Karabalut says. Her party also wants a ban on current situation that private debt collectors can charge money for their services.
The Groningen fraud case is not just one example; similar cases occur throughout the country. Who does not know the emails from a ‘prince’, ‘rich man’ or some other person from countries such as Nigeria, promising the receivers huge sums of money if they can use the bank account of the gullible email recipient. The American Office of Fair Trading reports on another scam, according to the website www.geldlenen.org. These particular emails don’t offer a reward, but one can borrow money at a very advantageous tariff. The offer is so good, that it is almost too good to be true. Therefore; it is not true. You will never see the compensation fee that you have paid to obtain this loan. And the ignorant believer can also forget about receiving one single cent from that ‘loan’.
These emails are written in bad English or Dutch and easily recognizable. Yet, still many people fall into the trap. These are usually the type of people that are already deep in debts and in complete desperation they accept the offer. Even though they sometimes know better. They hope that this email is the last straw that can save them out of a life filled with debts. Instead, the email offer only pushes them deeper in the debt hole.
And what effect does a life of debts for parents have to their children? Will they fall into the same debt traps like their parents did? Not necessarily, a survey from the SCP (Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau) shows. Not less than 93% of the children who were from a poor family, are now living above the poverty line. For most of them, this achievement did not come easy, because they were faced with arrears on the fields of social participation and goods. Often, there was no money for a bicycle, suitable sport clothes or to go on holiday. Poor kids also played less at the homes of their classmates. The fact that most children grow out of this situation when they start earning their own income is a positive thing, the SCP says. ‘There is no mass poverty culture in the Netherlands, of which no escape is possible’.
(Published in The Holland Times, edition June 2014)