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Jerry Ashton

Whoa, the conscious collector you say? And resolutions – those annual proclamations that people don’t keep? Does this sound like a bad pairing? Perhaps, even insulting?

Considering our industry’s track record, maybe, maybe not. After all, the industry is coming off a banner year for collections, made possible by hard work and dedication.

However… If there is one thing that today’s collector is conscious of, it is that our industry and the work it performs ranks in status somewhere below that of a used car salesman and slightly above that of a U.S. Congressman – and that is really bad.

As Shakespeare declared, “The fault…is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Still, it is instructive to look at the external so as to get our bearings. How in the world did we end up here?

Examples of how we have earned our place in the sun. 2011 has been a Record Year for Collection Lawsuits. Lawsuits citing FDCPA violations reached 11,359 from 1/1/11 through 12/15/11 – exceeding last year’s 10,914. Some examples of our discretions:

*The President of an Erie, PA collection agency is accused of using a fake courtroom to intimidate debtors — and invokes the Fifth Amendment.

*A San Diego based debt buyer and its subsidiaries employ collection approaches which investigators claim had “very little information about the debt…provided no supporting documentation…and included no proof that they actually acquired the debt from the original creditor…and also sometimes targeted the wrong individuals for collection and attempted to collect debts that had been fully or partially paid.” Reportedly, the company had ““set aside an additional $500,000 in anticipation of a settlement.”

*A federal court ordered an individual behind a payday lending scheme and two companies he controls to pay $294,536 for illegally trying to garnish borrowers’ wages, and other illegal collection practices.

*There are 30 states that will (sort of) allow imprisonment for unpaid debt – even though this has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833 – and underhanded agencies are taking advantage of loopholes to see the debtor land in the slammer. Even in the case of incomplete or false documentation.

And, a news piece hot off the press on January 1, 2012, “America’s Abusive Debt Collectors” by journalist Gary Rivlin, best-selling author of Broke, USA. To read it is to weep.

So, that’s the “reality” of our work and a view of our world as others see it. Where then, exactly, does “consciousness” or “resolution” come in for a bill collector? It is one thing for any of us to be conscious of our circumstances, but an entirely a different thing to have the resolve (resolution?) to change things. And, why bother?

First, to be conscious is to be awake. This implies awareness and the capacity to make responsible decisions. That’s the operative word – responsible. The Industry is not responsibile for the way things are; however, it is within our responsibility as workers within the industry to not make the way things are worse.

You want positive change? If it is to be, it is up to We. We are responsible.

Now, about those resolutions that can turn things around.

Resolution #1 – I will not work for an agency or debt buyer which employs or encourages duplicity in its collection efforts, i.e., phony courtrooms.

Resolution #2 – I will only work accounts which have supporting documentation. If my agency, or its client, cannot provide that proof – that account is returned with a “write it off” recommendation.

Resolution #3 – I will refuse to attempt collections on OOS (out of statute) accounts.

Resolution #4 – I will refuse to collect on personal loans (the infamous “payday” loan as example) which include “bumps” or fees and collection charges in tandem with egregious interest rates. Basically, an exercise of the Golden Rule.

In summation, what we would have here is a “conscious” collector who is aware of the applicable laws, knows the originator (and legitimacy) of a debt, and acts ethically.

Oh yes, and Resolution #5? That one belongs to the employers – the agency and/or debt buyer: “I will hire only collectors who have made – and live by – the above four resolutions.”

Hard working, ethical and conscientious bill collectors. Now, that should grab the headlines in 2012.


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