ARM Firm Responds to Hidden Camera Footage on Dateline

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The president of an accounts receivable management company that was featured prominently in a Dateline NBC story Friday night on the debt collection industry responded to the spot in a letter addressing some hidden camera footage aired in the piece.

The segment, part of Dateline’s series “Inside the Financial Fiasco,” aired Friday night on NBC. In it, debt collectors from an agency near Buffalo, N.Y. were shown discussing their business outside a bar after work. The person asking questions and engaging the conversation – under the guise of inquiring about employment opportunities — was outfitted with a hidden camera and microphone.

The footage showed a handful of people claiming to be debt collectors discussing behavior that is not allowed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Collectors said that they led consumers to believe lawsuit filings were imminent, called consumers’ supervisors at home, and even reveled in the fact that illegal actions were necessary to effectively do their jobs.

Although involving no more that four collectors, the exchange was held up as an example of the attitudes in the ARM industry as a whole.

Wayne Lewis, president of the company that employs the people on camera, LHR, Inc. of Hamburg, N.Y., issued a response letter Friday after viewing the footage on Dateline’s Web site in advance of the airing.

“These comments were completely irresponsible and not reflective of our company’s practices,” said Lewis in the letter.

Lewis told insideARM that they are diligent about hiring the right people and offer extensive education and training once they bring employees on board. Even then, “you can’t control what people say outside of work,” he noted.

The letter also said that LHR was in the process of terminating the employees shown on the video. Lewis confirmed Monday that the workers were no longer with LHR.

“The comments shown on Dateline are not representative of the ARM industry as a whole,” said Mike Ginsberg, CEO of ARM advisory firm Kaulkin Ginsberg. “Dateline’s approach was to over-exemplify the renegade practices of a few individuals rather than portraying the ethical, law-abiding practices of the masses of collection professionals every day.”

 

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Posted in Debt Buying, Debt Collection .

Continuing the Discussion

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  • avatar Jeane Olson says:

    Kudos to LHR for terminating those employees. There are many good collectors that do not resort to those tactics to collect money for the client. One good point of the story was that anyone can buy bad debt and receive peoples personal information. Identify theft anyone?

  • avatar Donne Viau says:

    Lethal, do you really think the ownership is taking appropriate actions? The only reason those people are not there any longer is because they got caught. The dialogue they were using wasn’t
    that of a novice collector. Those are old school tactics. That company stinks from the top on down. When the heat gets too much they will close shop, move, and start up somewhere else. Look at those offices. not a lot to move if you ask me. That company is why the Collections Industry has an odor about it.

  • avatar Jeane Olson says:

    Kudos to LHR for terminating those employees. There are many good collectors that do not resort to those tactics to collect money for the client. One good point of the story was that anyone can buy bad debt and receive peoples personal information. Identify theft anyone?

  • avatar Donne Viau says:

    Lethal, do you really think the ownership is taking appropriate actions? The only reason those people are not there any longer is because they got caught. The dialogue they were using wasn’t
    that of a novice collector. Those are old school tactics. That company stinks from the top on down. When the heat gets too much they will close shop, move, and start up somewhere else. Look at those offices. not a lot to move if you ask me. That company is why the Collections Industry has an odor about it.

  • avatar Nathan Meehling says:

    An Agency and individual collectors can be very successful working within the construct of State and Federal laws. It may take more education, more discipline and more intelligent recruits, but one can be MORE successful working professionally on placed claims.

    Thinking such as “Anonymous” above is similar to law enformcement following the Miranda decision. I would argue that Law Enformcement is more successful now than they were prior to Miranda as a result of the training, continuing education, discipline and calibre of all law enforcement professionals.

    This is the turn our Industry should have taken with the implementation of the FDCPA. I would argue that many of us did make this turn … but some have lost their way.

    Any entiment similar to Anonymous above needs to be irradicated by our Industry. If we can prove that we can self-regulate, then there will be less scrutiny on our Industry as a whole. Step up or step out. Period.

  • avatar GUY MURPHY says:

    You do not have to violate the law to collect debt! I own an agency and record every phone call, and monitor our collectors very close….But it’s the idiots at that agency that make it harder for the honest agency owners.. There are bad collectors out there, but there are many firms like mine where you would be fired on the spot if any of that crap the idiots in MD were saying.. One office is not the industry as a whole…IF it were none of us would stay in business…You don’t even have to violate the law for an attorney to get $3,000-$5,000 out of you…

  • avatar Kimberly Whitford says:

    I agree that the lending practices needs close analysis. Consumers have to realize a lender does not necessary know what is good for them. Forget going in debt. Buy a not so pretty car, grow your own food and walk or bike whenever you can. You’ll live longer stress free. We must aim to protect ourselves first and not go with the status quo of money is life. The best solution money can’t buy! Yippie!! FREEDOM RINGS!

    13 year Commercial Bill collector -working to be positive yet firm to corporations everywhere.

  • avatar Casey Middleman says:

    The cowboys who need cross the line do it because they are lazy and greedy at everyone elses expense. I know the type, they are usually big time debtors themselves. Violators are loosers.

  • avatar Average Joe says:

    All agencies have their own “culture”, and if you want to change the behavior of your employees you have to change the culture.

    The NBC piece may have given insight as to LHRs culture, or perhaps those were 4-5 “renegade” individuals, I don’t know. But, everyone working at an agency knows what I am talking about.

    The management either REALLY does care about compliance, or they don’t.

  • avatar Michael Sutherland says:

    This response is regards to the anonymous March 30, 2009 11:50 AM reply. I’m happy to hear that you have been in the ARM industry for 20 years. We all like to pride ourselves on the continuing education of our staff, and the integrity of our firms. As we grow and become larger agencies, it can be difficult to police and control the few bad apples we employ. I applaud LHR for immedaitley terminating the collectors for their unprofessional behavior. We should all meet with our entire staff today and share the Dateline article, and express zero tolerance with this type of work ethic as aired, both inside and outside our agencies. Our policies need to be immediate termination on the spot! From Anonymous.

  • avatar Average Joe says:

    All agencies have their own “culture”, and if you want to change the behavior of your employees you have to change the culture.

    The NBC piece may have given insight as to LHRs culture, or perhaps those were 4-5 “renegade” individuals, I don’t know. But, everyone working at an agency knows what I am talking about.

    The management either REALLY does care about compliance, or they don’t.

  • avatar tracy howard says:

    I havent seen the piece on dateline but some co workers of mine have and I hate collectors that use intimidation and law breaking to collect money. It makes the rest of us that follow the law look like crap. However I also believe that is partly to blame on supervisors that are bearing down on employess to collect and so they use any means possible to get money in the door so its usually a 50-50 situation but its very very sad.

    If that was what this agency’s collectors were doing then they deserve all that they get. Apparently their supervisors at this agency were not monitoring nor doing their job. If they had this would have had a much different outcome!

  • avatar Greg Hogenmiller says:

    I’d like to see someone run a counter piece showing a hidden camera discussion of some of the plaintiff’s attorneys we deal with. I think the general public would be equally appalled by their conduct and the manner in which they operate. There simply is no accountability or personal responsibility anymore.

  • avatar Donne Viau says:

    The problem is that this is the Chickens coming home to roost. Decades of ownership turning a blind eye to violators because they made them money has painted this industry as emlpoyers of con-men and parolees. Collector fraud is running rampant in Florida abd Ohio. I know of owners/manangers/supervisors that still don’t care if FDCPA is violated as long as that collector with bringing in the dollars. WHo cares if they fired these people? It is no skin off their nose. They will replace them, probably for less money. Anyone who says you have to push the limit are the same people who do not give to cents about the FDCPA. I too am fortunate to work for a company that takes these issues very seriously. Thought call recording we have protected ourselves and made sure the law is followed. As teh economy gets worse, more people are going to wise up, and more agencies are going to get sued. Good Luck to those of you who don’t care.

  • avatar KEN ROSS says:

    I have been an agency owner for over 20 years, and in the the industry for 30 years. Each time I see one of these programs trashing my profession I wonder why our governing body the (ACA)does not do more to regulate the few bad apples that contintue to give us a bad name. I know the “bad” one’s are not members, but it seems they (ACA) should do more counter punching,offer to have the media interview the agencys that spend thousands of dollars each year in training and licensing so they are doing it “right”…I am sure if Dateline went after other sectors of business world they will find all have a few bad apples…This country needs to focus on the positive, we are needed and viable, and for the most part an industry of very honest people, I employ 50 familys who give back to their community..not one of them look like what was seen on Dateline!

  • avatar Jim Anderson says:

    We can’t deny that this is a problem in the collections industry. There are more than a few bad apples. If you want to be successful in collections, as a previous poster said, you have to push the limits of what you can and can’t do. The reality is that debtors have been slow to enforce their rights and when it comes to debt buyers and credit card companies, collections tactics can be pretty aggressive. It isn’t that these people won’t pay their bills, it is that they can’t without denying themselves food, clothing, or shelter. There needs to be more control on the lending side of things to avoid this kind of fallout. Collectors need to be held accountable for their actions, and the industry is doing a poor job of that now.

  • avatar Casey Middleman says:

    The Passing of the FDNA (Fair Debt Non-payment Act) would stop all of this. The proposition is simple, it provides that anyone who is involved with the practice of non-payment or their agents are not alowed to give false and misleading information.

  • avatar Silas Goldman says:

    “you can?t control what people say outside of work”…proper monitoring would prevent collectors from violations of that magnitude. And yes, this segment was quite inflated to represent the bad seeds however ‘questionable’ practices exist everywhere. There will have to be some damage control, but this could be a great oppoarunity to educate and expand.

  • avatar GUY MURPHY says:

    You do not have to violate the law to collect debt! I own an agency and record every phone call, and monitor our collectors very close….But it’s the idiots at that agency that make it harder for the honest agency owners.. There are bad collectors out there, but there are many firms like mine where you would be fired on the spot if any of that crap the idiots in MD were saying.. One office is not the industry as a whole…IF it were none of us would stay in business…You don’t even have to violate the law for an attorney to get $3,000-$5,000 out of you…

  • avatar Casey Middleman says:

    The FDNA should require that credit issuers disclose to their paying customers how much more they pay in interest to cover the lossed by the non-payers. Paying customers have a right to the information.

  • avatar Joe Potter says:

    Hey Anonymous – Comment from March 30 at 11:46am.

    How about you UNSUBSCRIBE to the ARM as u are not of the ethical character this pulication or this INDUSTRY supports.

    To the story.. It is a shame that the media must get ratings to keep up advertising $ and the best ratings come from the exceptions .. not the rules..

    The Media today is no better than the entertainment buisess. It’s not about reporting the new.. it’s about sensationalizing the news so Proctor and Gamble will buy time to get the most # of eyes on their products.

    I would like to see the ARM ask a news agency to come to one of it members and show the OTHER side of this. Show the side of the ARM industry that DOES follow the laws and in many cases these days follows more strick rules than just the laws because of the ever increasing risk of getting caught by former bankruptcy attorneys that after the laws changed had to find a new way to survive so they turned to those that owned money as a way to maintain revenues throught suits. Just like those two attorney’s that were featured in that peice of @#$% Friday night.

    They feed on the innocent American Debtor MORE than the skum part of our industry that was spotlighted.

    I’m glad I work for and represent an ARM industry company that FOLLOWS laws and regulations and set’s the STANDARD for the industry and GLAD I am able to go to sleep each night KNOWING that Prime Time NBC won’t be at my work place tomorrow! Were to boring to get them ratings.. we follow the law.. treat borrowers with dignity and respect and are more sucessfull than EVERY doing business the RIGHT way by doing the RIGHT THING!

    A PROUD Collection Professional

  • avatar Nathan Meehling says:

    An Agency and individual collectors can be very successful working within the construct of State and Federal laws. It may take more education, more discipline and more intelligent recruits, but one can be MORE successful working professionally on placed claims.

    Thinking such as “Anonymous” above is similar to law enformcement following the Miranda decision. I would argue that Law Enformcement is more successful now than they were prior to Miranda as a result of the training, continuing education, discipline and calibre of all law enforcement professionals.

    This is the turn our Industry should have taken with the implementation of the FDCPA. I would argue that many of us did make this turn … but some have lost their way.

    Any entiment similar to Anonymous above needs to be irradicated by our Industry. If we can prove that we can self-regulate, then there will be less scrutiny on our Industry as a whole. Step up or step out. Period.

  • avatar JOE D says:

    This story is a stark example of why there needs to be much tighter regulations in the purchase or contingency work of debt portfolio’s. This type of “boiler room” tactic’s, used to scare and intimidate consumers, underminds what everyone in the profession has worked very hard to achieve. That is honesty, integrity and commitment to helping make change to how consumers handle their debt. This company needs to be shut down and all parties face the legal ramifications of breaking not only federal but state laws regarding their tactics. If they haven’t been sued already I beleive any knowledgeble attorney will have a field day with this company in court.

  • avatar Adam Holzhauer says:

    The National Barack Channel (NBC)is at it again trying to make everyone feel sorry for the people who “don’t” pay their bills on time. When will they do a Dateline that highlights the costs of these “deadbeats” to the “ontime” debtors who makeup the vast majority of people in America. We won’t need Collection Agencies if people simply paid their bills on time. We have become a “Bailout” nation of irresponsible adults!!!

  • avatar Robert Petersen says:

    Where’s the proof? I didn’t see the article and agree we don’t need shortcuts to collect accounts. However, off work interviews conducted with a few drinks and a cavalier approach by the interviewer may have contributed to some bravado behaviour of the collectors. Was a supervisor really contacted at home to collect a debt of an employee? Termination of these collectors implies that LHR knew they had a problem and it was time to make an example of someone… This is a reminder that collectors DO NEED oversight and recurring training because doing things the right way works more effectively…

  • avatar Craig Klein says:

    It’s been said but is worth repeating. There are bad apples in any industry that you choose to report on. Including the noble industries of law, medicine, charity etc.

    I am an agency owner who services the local government sector. Behaviors like those described in the Dateline piece would be the kiss of death for my business. I would think that company’s that condone or encourage this type of behavior are not long for this business world. We are held to a standard by our clients that requires us to do things the right way. Besides, I am a firm believer in collections with a customer service approach. It works better than bullying and scaring people. The VAST majority of our industry stives to adhere to the FDCPA and provides a great deal of resources in doing so.

    Finding a bad apple and labeling an entire industry because of a few “cowboys” is not only irresponsible but damaging to an industry that saves each and everyone of us money. Collections is a needed and noble profession. The members of the industry do a great deal of good, both from and educational standpoint and a charitable giving mentality.

    I think Dateline would have a great story to tell if it focused on the benefits of the collctions industry. However, like most news media outlets, focusing on the bad (even when the good outweights the bad) seems to be more interesting to them and their audience.

  • avatar Casey Middleman says:

    If the news reporter had to follow the same laws as our industry they woud be guilty of several violations. 1. The reporter had no interest in getting a job (False and Misleading) 2. They didnt properly disclose the purpose of their questioning. “This is an attemp to paint your industry in a bad light to the nation and any information obtained will be used for that purpose”. Surely all these various industries who’m are perceived as honest and reputable could easily operate under the same regulation as the ill-perceived debt collectors.

  • avatar matt dion says:

    Most likely it was the booze talking. I’m sure these collectors had some questionable tactics. But add alcohol to a nice bonus check & you got yourself a nice prime time TV show.

  • avatar JAMES FLACK says:

    Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation in public. So much for this ammendment ……

  • avatar Andrew Karpie says:

    I have received a number of collections call in the past months that used intimidating language (“Are you a man?”) and threats of law suits (“You have no idea of what is coming at you”). Since I had many years of professional experience in the credit and collections industry and am a responsible adult dealing with my current difficulties (which is going to take some time), I am aware of what is “coming at me.” I was quite pretty shocked to see this up-tick in calls that were of an intimidating and frankly illegal nature. Rather than rising in defensiveness, perhaps it would benefit the industry to find debt purchase financing strategies and new tactics for a new situation (ie., which will require a relationship over some time and using other means of commmunication such as email). Perhaps the industry, it’s capital investment approaches, and its collection tactics are out of date?

  • avatar Gary Rogers II says:

    I didn’t see the piece on dateline however will view it on line. My first job in the collection industry was 9 years ago first as a Collector, currently a Senior Manager and I am stll at the same location. I have approached my career with integrity for the consumer and their ability to repay their debt. The media over the years have tried to instill a quiet fear in Americans that what we offer is unabashed cruelty to their economic situation. I applaud LRH stance on terminating the collectors, those behaviors in any agency is a destructive energy, that feeds the media the fuel it needs to instill fear. We as an ARM industry need insure at all cost that as we go through these economic times that our message is clear, We are here to help.

  • avatar Laurence Wilkinson says:

    As an agency owner, I have always considered an attack on our industry as an attack on me personally. I take compliance issues very seriously, to the point that we established, as our company motto some years ago, a statement that keeps compliance at the forefront of our efforts: “It’s either completely right, or it’s completely wrong!” We approach collections in a customer service manner and with a sense of compassion, partly because of the current economic environment but mostly because we started as a medical collection agency and were dealing with people who incurred their unpaid debts unexpectedly and not because they went out and willingly overspent. Our industry constantly struggles to maintain compliance with ever changing regulations and judicial decisions and we should be proud that the majority of our industry works so hard to operate within legal and professional boundaries. Our state association in California is an excellent example in leading the way for compliance in all areas of our industry and, I am sure, has been responsible for keeping many of us beyond the reach of unscrupulous attorneys and educating our legislators as to the worth of the industry. We cannot let the rogue efforts of the media distract us from what we do; we just need to keep doing what we are doing to the best of our ability and try to educate the public to the true value we provide through our continuing efforts to do what is right.

  • avatar Craig Klein says:

    Thank you Mr. Wilkinson for further clarifying that most of us are deddicated to and ahere to the regulations that oversee our industry. Regulations that are intense, and in my opinion overreaching and too often punitive when not deserved. I would guess that our industry is the most heavily regulated and scrutinized of any of the service industries.

    When agencies do wrong they are penalized. Isn’t that enough? With all the negative things to report on, taking a shot at a valuable industry which is still in the job creation mode, again is irresponsible and shortsighted.

  • avatar Ron Brown says:

    I am an agency owner and have been in the ARM indutry for 36 years. I have always trained my employees to treat consumers as they would care to be treated and always adhered to the high collection standards set forth by ACA. I have traveled many miles across our nation as a Certified ACA Instructor and have taught not only the principles of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act but also the spirit of this federal law. Collection agencies spend millions of dollars each year to insure their employees are knowledgable of the applicable federal and state laws which apply to collection practices. The problem is that with any law there are the law abiding citizens and then the ones who do not and will not adhere to the law, they live a life outside the law, hence the title of “OUTLAW” is given to this group of people. We do not compare the lawful populace to the people who populate our prisons so why compare an industry to a few loudmouths who brag about their illegal exploits. It appears the employer has taken steps to correct the situation within their agency. Let us not condemn many for the actions of few. The media today seems to give bias reports and sensationalize anything and everything in the name of “NEWS”…this isn’t “NEW NEWS” it is old news…since the first time credit was extended there have been people who refuse to pay and therefore the need for “BILL COLLECTORS”. There have always been collectors who live within the law and those who live outside the law. PLEASE…give us some real news.

  • avatar Ron Davis says:

    If Dateline wants to do a good story, have them infiltrate the Governments way of doing collections. It really burns me up when I read the paper and there are list of names of people or companies who owe TAXES. Isn’t this strictly prohibited under the law that we (private companies) have to abide by? This is only one example of Do as I say and not as I do!! In my opinion the only way to do collections is the right way and please treat the people the way you would want your own family treated. ” Fairly and Honestly” That goes for all collectors, Government and non-Government alike. The money can still be collected if you have the right approach.

  • avatar Jacob Russo says:

    The “right approach”, as R D mentioned above, is to use fair tactics. Many debtors honestly want to pay their debts but, as we all know, temporarily are unable to do so due to the current state of the economy.

    Our job is not to add insult to injury, but rather, to make an honest attempt to collect within reasonable parameters. Unfortunately, GREED, the same malady that caused the over-extending of credit and its subsequent meltdown, are the main forces at work for those who violate the FDCPA rules.

    How many of could live with a suicide, or even worse, a murder-suicide because of unfair and vicious attacks on a poor, unfortunate soul who was going through a bad economic situation and is barely hanging on to the end of their rope?

    These are tough times for all of us. Keep that in mind in your training sessions.

  • avatar Thomas Melvin says:

    I would like to thank the Collection Company owners who have vocalized their outrage to the Collectors seen in the Dateline piece. Your righteous indignation is and should be expressed. I’m also saddened that the employee’s on the Dateline piece were sandbagged by the hidden camera, while off duty. Were the things that they said a clear violation of FDCPA standards? Darn Tooting! But, Dateline regardless of how they obtained this piece, recognize that behaviors which were talked about, actually happen in our industry on scale that caused this piece to be filmed in the first place. American’s who have had abusive collectors contact them in this manner were the ones who contacted Dateline.

    The old school tactics used prior to passage of the FDCPA still go on, we know it goes on, we all know of unethical companies that turn a blind eye to the abusive behaviors of their collectors.

    If our industry does not regulate itself more effectively, then others will be doing the job and those “others” will be State and Federal in nature. Owners will be paying even more in fines and lawsuits if we do not get our collective house in order. Collectors will see even more a trend to find their jobs outsourced to India if we cannot get rid of “those rotten apples”!

  • avatar Daniel Wakefield says:

    Why does Buffalo and WNY suffer the brunt of so much negative publicity? Negative articles, websites and now Dateline. We can’t win in sports, we can’t win in business, we are forever known for one thing. The Chicken Wing Capital of the World. Ohhh jeeze!

  • avatar Vivian Lindenau says:

    So what about the Supervisors? Did they fire the Supervisors that taught these guys and handed them the written scripts to read? I doubt they made up what they said on their own.
    Did they all work for the same Super, or were there 4 different ones, and they probably all let those under them treat those they call the same way. And who’s in charge of those supervisors?
    Go to the top, and whoever is in charge knows this is happening, and of course they are going to deny any knowledge. A bad apple at the top does rot the whole bunch in this industry.
    And by the way, nobody is complaining about those who follow the law.
    Maybe you guys in the ARM industry need to clean up your own industry instead of reporting what great profits those repeat offenders with stolen id and sol paper and previous FDCPA and FCRA violations are bringing in and keeping them in your news. Make examples of them if you say you follow the law and they are just “bad apples”. And you know exactly who they are. One day you report about their violations and the next day you report about their profits. Give me a break!
    If everybody they illegally harassed knew how to bring a lawsuit against them and the fines were large enough to put a dent in their profits they put themselves out of business.

  • avatar Larry Eck says:

    Interesting. There are of course two sides to every coin. What I found really offensive had less to do with the drunks in the parking lot flexing their collective macho, and more to do with the talk offs being used. Posing as law enforcement officers “verifying” addresses for service? Ya know if you have to stoop to that level, you need to be supersizing orders somewhere. The people that prosper in this industry are immensely creative and driven to success. They don’t need that kind of talk off-becuase they get it!

  • avatar Brent Marshall says:

    Yes, Anonymous on April 2, 2009… All of our Tens Upon Thousands of debtor accounts are just real good people just down on their luck. All they need is to receive proof of debt that they have received ten times already, and they will pay, because the collector was nice. PROPOSTEROUS! The vast majority of collectors know, through experience, that violating consumer rights does not pay in the long run, and anyone who is consistently successful in this business, knows that it is imperitive to respect the consumer in order to help them pay their obligations. The few who do the opposite of proper ethics, are in EVERY industry, and should not help instigate a stereotype. As long as the irresponsible media wants to fuel excuses and make people feel all warm and fuzzy about their downfalls, then this will be the hot topic. The media fuels the reses**on by repeating the word over and over. The media, and that harvard/yale whatever professor, need to step up, do the right thing, and explain that the vast majority of agencies are very willing to help people find a way to get their bills resolved. Instead, the media shows people who ‘claim’ to be trying and not getting anywhere. I see no proof, but everyone assumes the media has done their homework. We need a camera on the media. As for the four employees, I dont’t think they will be riding that grey line any time soon, and I don’t think anyone needs to or should. You can get the same results with a ‘do the right thing approach.

  • avatar Dave Hall says:

    Actually after reading all these posts I am surprised no one has brought up how poorly the ACA rep came off. I am an executive at a large agency and I was very disapointed that our trade association put someone on the air who came off so poorly. That bothered me a lot more than a few criminals posing as law enforcement and a few drunk collectors boasting of crossing the line.

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