I just received a call from a collector-agent about my unpaid credit-card obligation. I was told that if I do not pay, I will be charged with violation of Republic Act 8484. I have been having a hard time paying my debts because of my illness. If I failed to pay, would I be jailed?
The law you are referring to in your letter is Republic Act 8484 or the Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998. As defined, access device means any card, plate, code, account number, electronic serial number, personal identification number, or other telecommunications service, equipment, or instrumental identifier, or other means of account access that can be used to obtain money, goods, services, or any other thing of value or to initiate a transfer of funds (other than a transfer originated solely by paper instrument (Section 3 (a) RA 8484).
Based on the above definition, a credit card is an access device, the fraudulent use of which may subject the perpetrator thereof to imprisonment and fine.
In your situation, just because you failed to settle your obligation with the credit-card company does not mean you are criminally liable. Under the aforesaid law, however, one may be imprisoned and fined for using a credit card even if validly issued, with intent to defraud. This is particularly prohibited under Section 9 (j) of the law, which provides as follows:
“Section 9. Prohibited Acts. – The following acts shall constitute access-device fraud and are hereby declared to be unlawful:
(j) obtaining money or anything of value through the use of an access device, with intent to defraud or with intent to gain and fleeing thereafter;
Also, it is presumed that the holder of a credit card intended to defraud, if he/she abandons or surreptitiously leaves his place of employment, business or residence without notifying the credit-card company of the place where he/she may be found and that his/her outstanding and unpaid balance is past due for at least ninety (90) days and is more than Ten thousand pesos (P10,000.00) (Section 14, RA 8484).
If you are having a hard time paying your obligation because of the financial crisis you are undergoing, you could propose to the credit-card company on how you can pay obligation little by little. Never run away from your obligation as this could make you liable under the Access Devices Regulation Act of 1998.
Again, we find it necessary to mention that this opinion is solely based on the facts you have narrated and our appreciation of the same. The opinion may vary when the facts are changed or elaborated.
We hope that we were able to enlighten you on the matter.
Editor’s note: Dear PAO is a daily column of the Public Attorney’s Office. Questions for Chief Acosta may be sent to email@example.com