“Hey, Kel, remember the day that rep from CitiFinancial tried to force you to become a prostitute in order to pay back your $15,000 loan?”
Yeah, that was a really, really bad day, amongst a plethora of really bad days leading up to that shocking phone conversation on Friday, June 25th, 2010. I remember it so well because it was the day before the start of the G-20 Summit in Toronto, and I was living with my cousin and her family in Courtice, a suburb of Toronto, while desperately searching for employment in the GTA. For several days I had been watching news reports of the violent protests downtown with much trepidation, hoping that none of my activist or journalist friends had been arrested by police, who were getting pretty heavy-handed in their attempt to maintain order.
Just a quick background for people who don’t me: I work in the entertainment industry as screenwriter and television producer, with several years experience in print and broadcast journalism. I’ve also worked as a celebrity publicist, personal assistant and talent manager, making some pretty decent money – until the economic crash of 2008. That global financial disaster changed my life, in so many horrible ways.
After losing several clients in the early days of the financial crash, my income plummeted to just under $2,000 per month. Unable to pay monthly living and business expenses, I started charging phone, cable, hydro and other bills to credit cards, and when they maxed out I felt I had no choice but to apply for a bank loan. Everyone turned me down. Everyone, that is, except for CitiFinancial, who was only too happy to grant me a $15,000 consolidation loan – at 25% interest.
I barely managed to keep afloat, financially, for another year as I lost even more clients due to the economic crash. Now $40,000 in debt, I was forced to sell off my personal belongings (clothes, shoes, purses, books, collectables, electronics etc.), and went days without eating in order to pay my monthly expenses, including the CitiFinancial loan, which was $550 per month. By March of 2010, I’d lost my home (left before the landlord could issue me an eviction notice), my entire life savings and my one and only remaining client. My cousin, Tina, let me live in her basement while I searched for work – anything – just so I could get back on my feet, again.
That’s when I got the phone call from that female customer service rep from CitiFinancial. She wanted to know why I’d stopped making my monthly payments several months earlier, so, I told her that I was homeless, flat-dead broke and unemployed but very aggressively seeking work in Toronto. Unsympathetic (as they usually are), she insisted that I make a payment in order to keep my account from going to collections.
“Honey,” I said. “The only way you’re going to get a dime from me is if I start selling back alley blow-jobs at $20 a pop in downtown Toronto.”
I expected a laugh, a nervous chuckle...something. But, instead, silence on the other end, then: “Can you please hold for a moment?”
“Sure,” I said, as I fumbled through the silverware drawer, looking for a spoon.
A minute later, the perky female rep came back on the line. “OK, I just spoke to my supervisor and she said to go ahead and do that, please.”
I dropped the spoon back into the drawer. “Do what?”
“If you want to avoid having your account go to collections,” she pressed on, “we insist that you make a $100 payment, in good faith, at the nearest CitiFinancial office on Monday morning. However you need to do that.”
I was stunned but, thinking that she was joking, I said: “OK, so, you want me to drive to downtown Toronto this weekend and perform sex acts on complete strangers for money. Then, when I’ve got $100, you want me to go down to a CitiFinancial office and hand the money over to a customer service rep. Have I got that right?”
“Yes,” she said, without hesitation. “If we do not receive that $100 cash payment on Monday morning, your account will be sent to collections.”
I shook my head and laughed. “OK, sure. Thanks!”
I hung up the phone, still laughing as I made myself a bowl of chocolate ice cream. Of course, I didn’t take her seriously. But I suppose I should have as, true to her word, two weeks later I received written notice that my account had been sent to a collections agency, and thus began many months of threatening and harassing phone calls.
Infuriated by this point, I sent a formal written complaint to CitiFinancial’s Customer Complaints department, detailing my presumably recorded phone conversation with the rep who tried to coerce me into performing sex acts for money in order to pay back my loan. Essentially making CitiFinancial my pimp, I emphasized in my complaint.
I fully expected a serious complaint such as mine to end up on the desk of someone very high up in the ranks at CitiFinancial Canada. After all, if news got out that one of their agents tried to coerce a client into performing illegal acts and then insisted that they pass the proceeds of those crimes on to CitiFinancial...well, it would become an international scandal!
Boy, was I ever naïve.
A few weeks later, I got a very terse email reply from an anonymous front line customer service rep who told me that the woman I spoke to on the phone had been appropriately disciplined (whatever that means) and they would not pursue the matter any further. The rep went on to chastise me for being a delinquent client and told me that any further communications should be directed to the collections agency, as CitiFinancial has now closed my account.
Really? That’s it? A rep from a major banking institution tried to force me into a life of prostitution and...that’s all you’ve got to say? No apology, no explanation, no follow up? Just “thanks for telling us, you can go fuck off, now.”
It’s a good thing I’ve got a smart head on my middle-aged shoulders because, if this stupid phone rep had pulled a stunt like that on a scared and clueless 20-something year-old woman – who felt no option but to comply and was later raped and beaten behind some building at Yonge & Dundas – they wouldn’t be able to dismiss it so quickly, like they did with me.