The Debt Collection Industry From The Eyes of Former Debt Collectors

CNNMoney.com released a fascinating showcase of the life behind closed doors of debt collectors. They took ten different collectors ranging in 2 – 20 years of service in the field of debt collecting and asked their insight and thoughts on the debt collection industry and process of today.

The interviews were very nicely balanced between collectors that either enjoyed their job, felt unfulfilled in their line of work, abused debtors or were abused by debtors. CNN also provided the insight of the Founder and CEO of collection company CollectionTree.com which provided some interesting insight into running a collection agency.

The majority of collectors interviewed admitted to feeling pressure by the industry and the companies they worked for to meet a certain quota to ensure security in their job. Many collectors admitted to sometimes using harsh and brutal means of intimidating debtors and making sure they collected payments so they in turn would be paid.

The article began with Mel Harsh. When Mel Harsh first started he thought living up to his last name would get him far. He thought he was ruthless and had a black heart. He said he would use blind threats to intimidate people into paying. At first he thought being authoritative and abrasive was the only way to succeed in collecting and then it became an addiction, a high. He started to realize that more than likely the debt he was collecting was not the person’s only debt and they didn’t really deserve the torture of berating. He changed his style and tried to be nicer.

However you can only be so nice when part of your job is to sue people. After 20 years in the field he is finally getting out and couldn’t be more excited. He said he’s made good money and been able to support his family but didn’t feel right when his daughters told him they wanted to do what he does when they grow up. “I’m sick of all the agony I put people through” he stated.

We are then introduced to Alexis Moore. Moore stated, “you’d be surprised what goes on behind closed doors”. Her co-workers would routinely make a contest out how how many people they could get to cry in one day, some collectors would speak to debtors in another language than English with threats they would understand in their native tongue, for example: sending someone to their house to beat them with a tire iron if they don’t pay, simply because they didn’t think anyone else in the office would understand. She said her and her co-workers were asked every day to break the law and if they didn’t it appeared that there was something wrong with them and their performance. The company she worked for advised them to make calls throughout the day to elderly people that were hard of hearing, to fax a debtor’s total debt to their workplace and to contact neighbors and ask them to post notices on their front door if they couldn’t be contacted. She explained that it was a common practice to reveal a person’s debt to friends, relatives and neighbors, regardless of how illegal it was. She was encouraged to harass people. Employees were told to make threats to debtors to intimidate them, like repossessing their car even when they had no power to do so. At the end of the day, she was just trying to make a living herself. She felt if she didn’t produce the numbers and the money for the company she would have been fired in a heartbeat. She lived this way for ten years of her life.

Bob Cook worked in such a stressful work environment as a collector he would get anxious and physically ill some days at the thought of going to work. Over the ten years he worked as a debt collector he had had his share of bad days and irate debtors. It was the last straw for Bob when one day he called a debtor, recently fired and divorced, that since he was six months behind on payments his mobile home was going to be taken away. Cook said he showed compassion with the man knowing the holidays were coming up and told him that he could wait until January before finding a new place to live, but that he couldn’t continue to live there for free. The man went home and shot himself to death. Bob Cook quit.

There was only one anonymous interviewee. When interviewed this anonymous 16 year debt collector said that over the years they’ve heard co-workers harass and intimidate debtors. Not because they were naturally abrasive and cold hearted people but because they were frustrated – they needed to produce certain numbers and make money to support their own family and pay their own bills. It seems the only way to survive in this profession. They explained of one instance when co-workers would pose as legal counsel and have debtors on the other line of the phone raise their right hand and take an oath to tell the truth and would remind them that they were under oath while they questioned and badgered these debtors. In many instances when debtors would ask for the collector’s supervisor the collector would simply pass the phone to the person next to them and they would be just as pushy and abusive. This one collector in particular would make close to $2,000 a month on top of base salary. But when the numbers started to decrease they were dismissed for not being aggressive enough. In regards to their success in the industry this one interviewee stated, “I was a kind hearted person, and I guess that was my downfall”.

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We then meet Michelle Dunn. Michelle became a debt collector because she was good at collecting money and the job came easy to her. She explained that she thought she was doing a good thing, by collecting money for companies that had lent money to people and never received it back. She didn’t say that she was rude or pushy to debtors to collect the debt but acknowledged that “there are bill collectors out there who are abusive and terrible” but she shared another side of the abusive of debt collecting; when debtors abuse the collector.

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She said that debtors would call her every 5 minutes and hang up to harass her since she was harassing them, some threatened to burn her house down and people would continuously fax pages of profanities to her until the ink from her machine ran out. Some nights she was escorted by police out of the building after debtors showed up threatening to harm her. She eventually left the industry after 18 years because she couldn’t handle the stress and strain of the job; both on her and on the debtors she called that were going through a genuinely hard time and could not pay their debts.

Lisa Parker felt there was a lot of pressure in debt collecting and if you didn’t do well you could lose your job. There were times when she would be more aggressive and assertive than she would naturally be because there was the pressure of producing the payments and numbers in order to have security in her job. She said she would habitually harass or threaten repossession to debtors that could not pay to try and pry out a payment. She said the self satisfaction from the job was minimal and after 5 years in the business she could not take the pressure, the long hours and bullying of debtors so she left.

Bruce McClary had an overall positive experience as a debt collector. He said that he was never one of those collectors that would get angry and yell or threaten; the company he worked for would not tolerate language anything worse than “darn it”. But after 3 years he gave up the “give me your money” mentality and left the industry to become a credit counselor. He did share stories about the abuse he would receive from debtors, threatening to hurt him and cursing vulgarities at him when he called to collect a debt. He had to condition himself that it wasn’t him that the debtors were mad at but at the company for wanting the debt collected.

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Jeffrey Deutsch had an overall enjoyment in his 2.5 years of debt collecting. He said he always enjoyed the challenge to track down a debtor and their assets because of his innate fascination of investigating people and things. He described himself as “aggressive but legal”never crossing the line into illegal territory like other collectors have done. His view on the industry was that these debtors borrowed the money and promised to pay it back, he represented the creditor and had every right to try and collect the debt, in a legal manner. He felt a personal triumph when a debt got paid off. While he seems to have kept a direct and legal demeanor debtors he collected from treated him with contempt and often verbally abused Jeffrey and threatened him physically. He was laid off when he couldn’t meet his quota for collections after he came down with the flu but still holds an interest in the industry.

Mike Huddleston worked at a bank where he focused on car and boat loans and repossession of such items were a common occurrence for debtors that couldn’t pay. He spoke of one instance when he showed up at a debtors house to repossess their car and he was met by a large man with a gun threatening him. Another time two Dobermans were sicced on him. Mike proclaims he was not like other collectors he knew, he did not try to scare of take advantage of people by threats or abuse, he simply tried to collect the debt owed to the company. It was hard for him to deal with people that were struggling so much and with people that hid the truth about what was available to them so after 11 years he left the business.

Ryan Neuweg had an interesting take on the debt collection industry. Ryan is the Founder and CEO of CollectionTree.com, a collection agency. His outlook on his company is to keep collection legal and fair and morale up in the company. While there is stress in collecting money that people just don’t have he feels a sense of reward when he can successfully negotiate terms with troubled debtors to pay their debt. Ryan did shed some light on the process of hiring collectors with the first big client for his company; he needed about 30 collectors. After posting the job 400 to 500 people expressed interest and once he mentioned they would be screening for drugs the total number of applicants dropped somewhere under 100 people. Which begs to question the hiring perception in the debt collection industry.

The biggest hurdle here is that many debtors are not familiar with their rights and how collectors can treat them. Also, many debtors are not aware that many debt collectors may be simply trying to make a living for themselves and their own family to pay their own bills and they do not have a personal vendetta against one particular debtor. However, that being said, a collector should never threaten, harass or be abusive towards a debtor – it is against the law and anyone in debt should be aware of their legal rights when it comes to collecting debts.

You are protected by law from harassment and abuse when someone tries to collect a debt you owe. To learn more about the debt collection laws in this country click here. If you feel you are being abused or harassed, take action. Stay educated. Stay strong. Seek help.

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