A few years back I lent some money to a friend who happened to be going through a rough patch in life. I had some spare cash and I saw this as a simple case of them needing it more than I did. I was happy to lend a helping hand to someone who had fallen on tough times.
I consider myself a pretty good judge of character and can usually tell when someone is lying or trying to take advantage of me. Or so I thought. Imagine my surprise when I got taken for a ride at a time I least expected it.
I see life as a collection of crests and troughs, like the undulating motion of an ocean. When things go well we surf the wave of success all the way to shore, but when things don’t go according to plan, we frantically fight to keep our heads above the whitewash.
I’d known this person for over a year, we had common friends and socialized regularly. We weren’t close by any stretch of the imagination but we had exchanged enough conversations to know where each stood in life. As far as I was concerned, there was little flight risk and I honestly thought that with a small infusion of emergency funds she would be back on their feet in no time.
I transferred the money without any hesitation thinking that it would be repaid in full within the agreed-upon three months. This wasn’t a gift nor was it a charitable tax deduction, it was a zero interest loan to help a friend get out from a prickly situation.
Barely two weeks after the transfer she disappeared. Not just from the house she occupied, but also the country. There was no trace left, nobody from her group of friends knew anything at all. Even her roommate was puzzled at the speed of her stealthy departure. She didn’t even bother to take all of her belongings.
Emails bounced and phone calls remained unanswered — it was as if she’d been whisked off into a witness protection program never to be seen or heard from again. And since I was in the middle of relocating to another country, chasing down my cash was quickly put to the bottom of my to-do list.
Six years later, my calendar was still prompting me to “re-establish contact & recover money” from that ill-fated transaction. Each year I searched online, sent more emails and reconnected with that old social circle without anything concrete to show for it. Nobody knew what had happened to her or whether she was still alive.
I’d lost any hope in ever recovering the money but more importantly I’d lost confidence in my ability to read people. In a final show of desperation, I setup search engine alerts which would scour the internet and email me when the search phrase was found.
Another year went past, eight since that initial exchange of funds, when finally I received a search hit. Who would have thought that an eight year old search phrase would culminate in me re-establishing contact with a long lost debtor. The search alert showed that she was back in Australia and working as a recruitment consultant for a Perth placement agency. I couldn’t believe my luck, she was alive but more importantly employed. I fired off an email to the address one listed on the recruitment company website.
A reply came back that very same day — I was stunned. She agreed to send through the first installment at the beginning of next month but gave no clues as to why she’d not kept in touch nor where she’s vanished to in the meantime. I didn’t really care about the details as long as she would finally pay up and repay the loan. Provided that she stuck to the repayment plan, the loan would be repaid within a few months.
No payment for two months, no response to my emails and zero notification that my emails were being read. Déjà vu all over again. She vanished into thin air.
Maybe she got fired or run over by a bus? My mind was trying to make sense of it all. Her photo was still on the corporate website, so I could only assume that she was still employed there. I fired off another email, this time threatening to put the senior manager on cc and mentioning her past.
Within minutes I received a response. She was trying to ignore me. I find that most people will do anything to keep their public image clean. In this case, having her management think that she’s unable to manage debts or is involved in some shady business, only worked in my favour. She agreed to transfer the initial installment by the end of the week.
Over the course of the last six months there have been several transfers, some smaller than the agreed amount, some months missed completely, but at least there has been progress.
The whole experience has been tedious and exhausting. The fact that I must try to collect while being continents apart is a challenge in itself. It’s not as if I can park myself outside her office and demand payment in person. I’ve had to increase the pressure on a few more occasions but I really didn’t enjoy it because it reminded me of having been taken advantage of. I shouldn’t have to push for something when she’s clearly making a decent living and standing on her own two feet.
The final payment came through just last week and I feel like I can finally put a close to that chapter of my life.
They say not to mix family and/or friends with money matters, but other than this isolated incident I’ve not had any other sour experiences. Would I lend money to a friend again? Of course I would. Everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.