Debt collectors trying to polish image in media

A call center

Debt collectors, many of whom are perfectly normal people working hard in call centers and offices nationwide, are trying to get a fairer shake in the media. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

One group of people that are almost universally despised is debt collectors. They could easily be misunderstood, as they do provide a somewhat necessary service and the only media coverage is when people are abused by collectors, not when debts are properly and calmly collected in a reasonable fashion.

Media picking up story humanizing the face of debt collection

An article that recently appeared in the New York Times has been getting a lot of mention around the web, on sites like Time and MSNBC. The focus of the piece is an effort by debt collectors to be seen as more “human” by the general populace. One of the collectors cited in the piece, who works for a debt collection firm in Minnesota, said that some customers are every bit as awful as collectors are supposed to be, as people trying to do their jobs and collect a debt will be threatened with everything from lawsuits to death on a daily basis.

Mark Neeb, the head of the trade group for debt collectors, ACA International, insists debt collectors are hard-working folk just like everyone else, and that the rotten ones are really the exception to the rule.

An uphill battle

Rehabilitating image will be hard, since most of what the public hears is that debt collectors are unethical. Searching for “debt collection” on any search engine provides many examples. For instance, according to Reuters, Encore Capital Group LLC, the largest debt collection agency in the country, is being sued by the Minnesota Attorney General for improperly “robo-signing” collection letters just like some fairly well known banks were doing, and unjustly attempting to collect the debts. A Florida debt collector, Brooks, Newman and Stone, Inc., was recently fined $7,500 by the state of Minnesota for collecting a debt on behalf of a South St. Paul business and pocketing the money, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In Eugene, Ore., an attorney named Derrick McGavic was disbarred and fined $70,000 for garnishing wages without notifying people he was trying to collect a debt, according to KCBY 11, a CBS affiliate in central Oregon.

Convenient timing

Looming over the debt industry is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the agency that will police everything from credit cards to payday loans. The CFPB is soon to begin operation, and will share jurisdiction with the Federal Trade Commission over debt collectors. Debt collectors have been getting in trouble with regulators more these days, as there were 140,036 complaints filed last year against debt collection agencies, up 14 percent from 2009. Debt collection is fairly simple. A debt, held by a business, is bought by a debt collector, who tries to collect it from the customer.

While most debt collection practices are legal, there are some that are prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If a person is being contacted by a collector, they should familiarize themselves with the FDCPA. Also, negotiations for paying less than the total is possible, since collectors typically buy debt for pennies on the dollar.





Minnesota Star Tribune


Federal Trade Commission and Fair Debt Collection Practices Act