Woolies’ debt agents lack ‘human’ touch

No matter how often Karin Green told Woolworths recovery department she was not “Ms Human” the more they harassed her and she doesn’t even have an account with them.

The only debt she has is on her credit card, the Marina da Gama resident said.

“Please help me before I lay a charge of harassment. Since October 2019 I have been receiving calls from the Woolworths bad debts department and I do not even have a Woolworths account. They ask for Ms Human. I tell them I’m Ms Green and they have the wrong person. But this has not stopped them. I went to Woolworths Blue Route to try to resolve the problem. They put financial services on the line and I spoke to “Welvan” who assured me the calls would stop. They didn’t. One day I got four calls and when I answered the last I told them to stop harassing me,” said Ms Green, who blocked many of their numbers.

“If it starts with 021 493 I know it’s them. I’m a mother of two young men so I cannot ignore the phone. I rush to answer and it’s Woolworths harassing me again. I am so mad at them I can spit. They call three or four times a day and often five minutes later, mostly around 9am, 11am, noon and 3pm. One was just before 4pm.

“I initially asked them what the call was about and they said as I’m not Ms Human, it’s got nothing to do with me, yet they continued to harass me. I only found out who they were by returning the call and when I googled the name I determined it was Woolworths Financial Services (WFS). Please get them to stop,” Ms Green pleaded.

Woolworths said, at financial services, “We always aim to serve our customers with care and deny any allegation of harassment”.

“Our intention was not to harass, but merely to engage with ‘Ms Human’ to make the necessary payment arrangement,” said the spokesperson who added, “WFS Collections is only allowed to divulge account information to the account holder to meet our privacy obligations and protect customers’confidential information.”

Perhaps. But why didn’t the agents listen when Ms Green told them for the umpteenth time that she wasn’t Ms Human?

“The number used by Ms Green was previously listed as Ms Human’s number when the account was opened in 1994. The number was thus provided to us by Ms Human. We comply with all regulations applicable to the financial services industry and regularly test our compliance against these regulations and areas to further improve. We agree that the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) states that you are not allowed to harass a consumer. This is also a requirement of the Debt Collectors Act and their code of conduct,” Woolworths said.

Nationwide Recovery Service is an in-house collections agency registered with the Debt Collectors Council.

“We have service level agreements with our debt collectors and continuously track their performance against this.

“Collections are run from an automated dialling system which is randomised, resulting in different agents calling different customers. Our systems are aligned and in sync, meaning they talk to each other, however, updating of customer data is strictly controlled to avoid fraud or misuse. All our agents make notes, where necessary, on their interaction with the customer.

“When accounts are opened, a contact number is requested from the customer and this was the number provided by Ms Human when she opened the account. Our entire business, including opening of new accounts, is subject to the National Credit Act, as well as internal fraud controls. We have stringent criteria when vetting potential new customers and depend on them to keep us updated should their contact details change,” the spokesperson said.

Woolworths said the debt collectors did contact Ms Human on one of the numbers listed for the account.

When the account was opened it was listed as a second contact number. It is still listed at the credit bureau so when Ms Human did not answer on her primary number, they used the second one to contact her.

“The cell number will be removed and Ms Green will not be contacted by WFS again. Since Ms Green’s number is listed at the credit bureau under Ms Human’s name, debt collectors acting on behalf of other credit providers might also try to contact Ms Green,” said Woolworths, who stopped the calls and agreed to give Ms Green a gift voucher for the inconvenience.

Ms Green confirmed that there have been no more calls. “You are an absolute star. So far, touch wood, I’ve had no more calls. However, they’ve not been so truthful about taking notes though. I told them many times I’m not Ms Human. I’m Ms Green, you have the wrong number

“But I am so tired of them. Not sure they will be getting my business in the future, considering I was brought up in Woolies clothes and my boys too.

“Thank you for getting to the bottom of things in a way I couldn’t. I just couldn’t get them to stop. No matter if I was kind, cross, screaming or just put the phone down or blocking their numbers. They just carried on harassing me,” Ms Green said.