Responses to NBC Dateline’s recent appraisal of the collection industry have, in my opinion, been way off base.  Those of you who were sleeping around 10:45 on Friday night missed some deeply disturbing coverage.

NBC interviewed a woman who played a message on her answering machine that was left by a collector working for the Philadelphia-area Academy Collection Service:

“The message said, ‘Have you ever been raped?’  And then the guy laughed. My first reaction when I heard it was, ‘I can’t be hearing this.’  So I replayed it.  As a woman, that’s gotta be one of the most terrorizing things you could ever hear…  Should I grab the kids and go to my parents?  Should I grab the kids and just get away?  I don’t understand why people could do this to me, or to anybody.  This is not a good thing.  You can’t, you cannot do this to people.”

Later in the program, NBC played recordings of collection calls by  Final Claims Asset Locators, a collection agency in Buffalo, whose collectors pretended to be Maryland police officers when making calls.  As part of a collection call, they said,

“If you don’t want to pay sir, that’s fine.  I’ll just have to have you picked up.  There is going to be a detainer, sir, where you’ll be brought to Maryland to face charges here.  So what we’ll do is, we’re going to have you picked up.”

A reader on InsideARM responded by writing,

“So what’s the big deal?  The law gives debtors protection.  It is not like they can break your leg or arm.  The bill collectors are behind a phone possibly hundreds if not a thousand miles away… The rest is nonsense, they got to collect somehow.”

The rest is NOT nonsense.  It is true that the media’s descriptions of rogue collectors and rogue agencies give an incomplete picture of this industry.  It is also true that if we as an industry do not regulate ourselves, then we should fully expect more regulation as Congress revises the FDCPA.

Rozanne Andersen of ACA International said it best at the conclusion of the show.  When asked, “Is there a gap in regulation?  Is enough being done?” she responded,

“(From) what we’ve seen today, I think the answer is clear.”

I agree with Rozanne.  If we can’t regulate ourselves as an industry, we should expect to be further regulated.  And, in my opinion, we should respond to facts like the ones described on Dateline NBC not only as incomplete reporting (which it obviously is), but also with outrage.  These things do happen in our industry, and they are abhorrent.