At my job, one of my peripheral duties is to answer the main desk phone. This means that calls come in on an infrequent but regular basis, about one or two calls per hour, and usually from a small number of possible categories. Employees call in and tell me they’re sick and can’t make it. People who want jobs call in and ask me to transfer them to a recruiter. People selling things ask me to transfer them to sales. Other companies call in and ask me to verify past or current employment. Sometimes confused people call in looking to purchase phone service.
Then there are the debt collectors.
I am personally of the opinion that as a category, debt collectors are the absolute scum of the earth. I don’t begrudge any debt collectors personally– the good Lord knows we all have to work, and in this economy sometimes that means accepting a job with ethically shaky employers– but as a category, as a career choice, in terms of providing a valuable service to society, debt collectors are the lowest of the low. Much of this is circumstantial– there’s nothing prima facie wrong with debt collection. Someone bought something from you on credit, they didn’t pay you for it. You want your money. There’s nothing wrong with that. The problem that I have with debt collectors is due largely to their methodology. Their shady, shady methodology.
The way that debt collection usually works is this: the company or small business attempts to collect on the debt using traditional methods. After a certain amount of time, it usually becomes clear that the debt is Not Going To Get Paid. When this happens, a professional debt collection business will step in and purchase the owed debt at a huge discount. Then they begin to chase down the debtors. This means doing things like contacting friends, family members, and employers of the debtors until they (the debtors) either cough up the amount or come to an agreement with the collection agency, whether it be a partial lump payment or a payment plan.
Debt collectors use fear and harassment tactics. Generally a couple times a week, I’ll get a call for one of our employees, and the debt collector will kick up a huge fuss about how it’s a legal matter and they need to speak with the technician and if I don’t transfer them I’ll somehow bring the full force of the law down on my head. This is straight-up not true. If someone calls and they’re not a cop, I flat turn them down. I say something like “That person is unable to accept calls at this number.” Which, in addition to being true, also serves a vague legal purpose. My friend Greg, a lawyer who primarily defends people against legal actions related to debt collection, told me that if you use this verbiage or a close approximation, then legally the debt collector is disallowed from calling in again, and if they do, it becomes possible to sue them.
I love this part of the job. I love telling these skeevy debt-collectors to take a flying leap at a rolling doughnut. I love protecting my employees, in the little way that I can, from the fear and loathing that comes with talking to a debt collector.
Sorry. I meant to tell a hilarious story and it turned into a diatribe.
So: there’s the background. Aaaaaand… curtains up.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
The DEBT COLLECTOR has a thick middle eastern accent. This is strong but by no means incontrovertible evidence that he is working from overseas. He is perhaps mid-30s. This is what he does for a living: calls people, asks to speak with them regarding their outstanding debts, threatens them with legal action. The people that he speaks with are mainly combative, argumentative, and screamy.
The FLOOR MANAGER is logy but alive, sipping a coffee and monitoring the activity going down during another business day.
The PHONE rings.
FLOOR MANAGER: [Name of Business], this is Keith.
DEBT COLLECTOR: Hello, I’m calling about a legal matter, may I speak with (name of tech)?
FLOOR MANAGER: I’m sorry, she’s unable to accept calls at this number.
DEBT COLLECTOR: Take down my name and number.
FLOOR MANAGER: I’m sorry, I’m unable to pass along any messages.
DEBT COLLECTOR: Sir this is a legal matter. We represent an important company. This is regarding an important legal action.
FLOOR MANAGER: Sorry. She can’t accept calls at this number and I am unable to pass on a message.
(There is a PREGNANT PAUSE.)
DEBT COLLECTOR: Motherfucker. (hangs up)
FLOOR MANAGER: Ha ha haaaa! I win!
NOTE: In the DEBT COLLECTOR’S thick accent, it sounded more like “mootafukka.” HILARITY! This guy made my entire day.
I’ll just leave it at that. (I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with something witty, but it’s 8:00 am and I’ve got nothing.)
Are skip tracers different from debt collectors? We get a lot of skip tracers calling us @ work wanting us to run creative searches to find people and their assets using our Reference USA database. Many many many. Using a service paid for by taxes to help run their business. Yes.
My favorite line was alway “This is the manager’s desk at a call center, was there something *I* could help you with?” Half the time they usually just hung up. Good times.