When ‘strangers’ come borrowing money

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at May 24 2021 12:35 PM

It’s been years since I last spoke with a former work colleague, so getting a message from him saying hello was unexpected. Being polite, I had to reply and was surprised that his next message was requesting to borrow money.

And it was no small sum. He was trying for an amount that is more than a month’s pay for minimum wage earners. My first reply was what has become my standard excuse: I no longer work full-time so I do not have access to regular pay and have a limited budget for our household spending.

But he was persistent which led to me lending him half the sum he originally asked for, because he promised to pay in the same week. Of course, he did not pay in the same week, and he also ignored all my messages after I transferred him the money.

The thing is there were so many red flags I ignored here that I kept kicking myself the whole three weeks before I got paid back. And yes, I got my money back because I decided to take active steps to collect instead of writing this off as a painful life lesson for my wallet.

And just a few days after I got paid, I got another message from a near stranger saying hello. You can guess that I did not reply to that as quickly as I did to the first one. We are living in difficult times, so I suspect these will happen more frequently. If you find yourself at the receiving end of such a request, consider the following before you part with your hard-earned money.

#1 Explain your current situation.

Most people borrowing money are focused on their need – so you have to also share with them your current situation. Are you still working? Maybe your employer cut back your hours and you are paid less now? If you are married, is your spouse working or also lost his or her job? Do you have family that moved in with you because of the tough times? Did a family member get sick that wiped out your savings? All these will help set the stage for your answer, and can also aid you if you do lend money and will collect later.

#2 Ask what he or she needs the money for.

I confess I missed this one, and by the time I asked, I had already committed to lend the money. Worse, even when I asked, I did not get a satisfactory answer. All he said was that he has an urgent need. An answer like that will make it easier for you to turn him or her down. It’s a different matter if there is a family emergency, someone sick or passed away and there are hospital bills to be settled. Of course, there are those who will not tell the 100 percent truth but that’s on them and not on you.

#3 Consider your connection.

In my case, he was practically a stranger. We worked together years ago, but we never knew each other outside of work. I do know one of his relatives, and that said relative has money, plus some of his work colleagues, but I realized later on that none of them can help me collect on his debt. May I add that he requested we keep this between us? And since I said yes, that meant I was on my own when it came to getting my money back.

#4 Stranger danger is so true in this case.

If you are practically strangers, saying no should be easy right? That was the reason why I kept blaming myself. He should turn to his family, his friends – and the fact that he came to me made me wonder if he has already borrowed from all of them. If that was the case, he would be drowning in debt and I just threw my money down that deep well. And since we are practically strangers, you would think he would offer to pay interest (he didn’t, thought I would say no to that too) or leave a collateral (something I would consider like a phone or computer).

#5 Make him live up to his promise to pay.

My debtor promised to pay within the week, but I did not hear from him again until I decided to call him the week after. The thing is he used a messaging app to contact me and then disappeared from that app. Good thing I was able to find his mobile number and called him through it. He was definitely surprised when he found out it was me on the other line, and then he promised he will pay that week. He still didn’t and it took another two weeks, many prayers on my end, more polite demands, and two payment installments before I could recover my money.

In hindsight, I should have just said no to lending him the money. If he had given a good reason for his need, maybe I would have offered some help with no expectation of payment. No one wants to be taken advantage of, which I felt happened to me in this case. If I did not have his mobile number, would he have just disappeared along with my money? 

When he finally completed his payment, he and I both knew that we went from near strangers to total strangers. Sadly he burned a bridge.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.