Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Earnit Kingdom: Loan Sharks Feeding Frenzy

On most Korean cable TV channels, a 90 mn movie generally stretches to over 200 mn because of ads, including a 30 mn advertising tunnel at half time. And if it's an action movie - and 99.9% of cable movies are action movies, with a 50% 'chance' of featuring Steven Seagal - every other spot goes to loan companies.

In France, where regulations try to protect consumers, the message is always cautious, never pushing. Here, it's a permanent Rio Carnival with wads of cash springing from everywhere and a recurrent message: for easy, instant money, call now and think later. No wonder household debt keeps mounting at an alarming pace. But authorities don't seem to worry about a phenomenon mirroring the 1998-2003 period, which ended with a severe credit card crisis.

A couple of months ago, I received about a hundred phone calls every day from dozens of different financial institutions: a certain Mr KIM 00 had subscribed to series of loans, leaving behind the same phony number... which happened to be mine. And "phony", in frigging deed.

For weeks I answered the best I could in my crooked Korean and English, telling them I had nothing to do with this KIM gogaeknim, storing each new number into my own spam list, and managing to stop the calls only after threatening to call the police if the harrassment continued. The volume trickled town to 10 calls a day and then one or two, then zero.

So now, I only receive the 'regular' spam calls. And because I'm on anti-spam lists, we're talking just two-four calls + four-six SMS, every day except on Sundays. All for loans. My spam list keeps growing, and companies changing their phone numbers. The mother of all spammers? Hi Capital: they play a taped message with a female voice and a music that may sound pleasant the first time, but triggers murderous pulsions around the 257th time you hear it. Now I recognize it from the first note, so I can instantly hang up.

But most of the time, there's a human being on the other end of the phone. Working in a call center is a very tough job and I don't want to be rude, but for everybody's well being and productivity, it's better to make things clear as soon as possible. So if I don't recognize the number I only answer in English.

I worked my 'hello?' to a long and melodious 'I'm a Foreigner' statement, and it works: most of the time, the caller hangs up without a word. And when there's one word, it's 95% of the time a curse, and 5% a kind 'sorry' in perfect English. Others burst into laughter. Yet others keep following the script and reading the sales pitch until I thank them for never calling again.

What a tragedy.

I'm not complaining about myself. Just witnessing a doomed collision course.

When the only way of earning money is to fool over the phone poor people into getting poorer, you know something is rotten in The Earnit Kingdom.

Seoul Village 2011
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