Dear Thelma: I'm drowning under financial burden and have no hope left


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Dear Thelma,

I invested my life savings of RM50K in a travel-related company which is a subsidiary of the parent company which is on Bank Negara Malaysia's (BNM) list of regulayees.

I have been receiving regular monthly returns from the company from the day I invested in 2019 until November 2021 when, following BNM's raid on the parent company, all its accounts as well as its subsidiaries were frozen. l have thus lost my monthly source of income which I was very dependent on.

I am a single 77+ year old private-sector retiree with no other source of income and I depend on the monthly returns from the company.

I live alone in a rented house and have no dependants.

I do not get in touch with relatives and have no desire to do so. I like being alone and am happy being so.

Going to live with others in a government-funded facility is not an option.

I have some medical issues, chief of which is that I am unable to walk short distances nor stand for short periods as I have bad knees, l rely on a cane when I go out for food or to supermarkets.

I wrote an impassioned letter to the principal director of the company detailing my predicament and asking for the return of my funds but have received no response.

I approached BNM as a last resort but was told that only the courts have the authority to approve any release of funds that's frozen.

At the moment, the case is still under investigation – and that about finishes all hopes of my getting my money back.

I have been surviving on the little savings l have, which are almost depleted.

I have therefore decided to end it all when my funds run out, as the stigma attached to being homeless and living on the streets would be unthinkable.

The thought that the impending end is drawing near leaves me depressed, stressed and scared at the same time at how l have to find the courage to execute the plan that I have set out.

During one of my worst moments, I contacted a helpline but that didn't solve anything.

I am an avid follower of your column and am hoping you might offer some of your wise counselling.

DG


Dear DG,

I'm so very sorry. Investing in a company is always tricky, and when they are shut down, cease operating or go broke, it's heart-breaking how many of us lose hard-earned money.

Sadly, I'm not a lawyer or financial advisor, so I can't guess how long a case like this goes on, or what is likely to happen.

Hopefully, there's a small miracle and it's settled within the next few weeks and you get your funds back.

Assuming the worst, and that nothing changes for the foreseeable future, what can you do now?

You have relatives but you don't want to contact them. There are government facilities but you don't want to approach them. You don't say why, so I'll suggest that you should rethink this. If there are tools that can help you through, it's sensible to use them.

Supposing your relatives don't or can't help you, and that the government facilities are full, I have these suggestions. We'll cover your home and your groceries, as well as the business issue.

Big picture first: A single person asking for justice is simple to ignore. There are bound to be many investors in your position. I suggest you contact them and operate as a group. Groups have clout.

The easiest way to find others who have been caught in the same situation is through social media. If you're online, put out the word. If you are not, ask a friend to help. Ideally, you connect with other victims over WhatsApp or email.

Second, go see your local MP. Go first as a private person alone, and then go with your group.

For the business issue, bring all your paperwork with you. Ideally, you also bring a short one-page letter that explains exactly what happened, with all the case numbers.

While it's unlikely this office can magically shake loose your money, they may be able to find out what the official agenda is. I think you should ask them to discover whether the investigation is almost complete and whether it's worth applying to a court for your funds.

This won't be instant; it takes a few days to figure out this information.

Supposing you have a time frame, perhaps you can also take out a small loan against the return of your investment? Ask his people what options there are.

In addition, source information to help you personally right now. There are so many people in distress right now, that you will not be alone.

Again, big picture is some kind of official aid. You don't say where your house is, but his staff should be able to source information for your area.

Ask about government departments and local councils, perhaps they can pay your rent for a while, or contribute some cash.

I appreciate your pride, and at your age you should be comfortable, but I urge you to reach out to NGOs and local welfare departments that help the urban poor with food aid programmes too. A few months of free food will help you stretch your resources.

As for housing, you live in a rented house. As you have a history with your landlord, you will have built up some goodwill. Can you ask for a few months' grace?

Many people believe that eviction follows instantly on not paying on the dot. Please know there are laws about evicting people in distress. Landlords can't put people on the street overnight; it's a process and it takes time.

Not being able to pay rent is always stressful for all parties. Apart from your pride, it's tricky ethically as your house owners may be in debt themselves and relying on your income too.

Talk to your MP to discover your rights. It's possible that you may be eligible to stay for a few months because of tenant rights. Once you know where you stand, ask them to help you negotiate with the landlord. Ideally, you talk to them honestly and all of you work together.

Now, as you rent a house, not a room, I think there's an opportunity there. Can you rent out a room, or two, so you have income? And split that income with the owner?

If you can't find full-time tenants, consider renting out a room to a person who is working from home or who needs study space or a quiet office. Basically, anyone who is willing to pay for space.

If you're in a busy place, and you have a parking space, rent that out to a commuter.

Should you only have a few months' grace, and you have to move, talk to the other victims. There may be someone in a similar position who is looking to cut costs. Perhaps you can share an apartment – or share sheltered housing with them.

Finally, you are depressed, frightened and angry. You're also suicidal. I hope that these suggestions bear fruit; however, I urge you also to get some mental health help.

Helplines are lovely, but their function is to provide a listening ear. I think you'd benefit from more practical help, like a social worker.

Ask your MP or get in touch with the other helplines on the page to source for that.

Please, don't give up. You're in a tough place, but there is help. Reach out, and know that I'm thinking of you.

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