Thursday, February 5, 2009

Debt Collection Theatre

Bruce Schneier coined the term "security theatre" to describe the situation where some authority imposes a set of restrictions or checks that provide the illusion of improving security while in practice achieving no such thing. I, however, have just discovered the debt collection equivalent - the notion that someone is working hard to collect the cash, but in practice not. Here's how it goes.

Ever since we moved into our current offices, I've been plagued with calls from various debt collection agencies trying to track down a Shamen Shauncey (no idea of the spelling). One can safely assume that SS absconded from the Bay Area a few years back leaving a paper trail of unpaid bills; so far, so common. However, what with the pressure here on phone numbers - there are too few to go around, especially with cell phones becoming so widespread - old ones quickly get reallocated to lucky new customers, in this case, me.

Over time, the frequency of these collection calls has ebbed and flowed, but recently they started coming in once a day and all from the same agency. Since I always ignore calls from numbers I don't know, I've never actually talked to a person at this particular company, Resurgent Capital, collecting instead mega-bytes worth of voice mail messages, all trying to entice me to phone them. However, having a few minutes spare I thought I'd finally call back, just to see what happens.

Someone called Claire left the usual message this morning, along with a phone number, extension and case number. Cunningly, it's phrased along the lines of "I have this file on my desk and I just want to check something before I pass it along. Please call ....". So I did.

First problem: there's no way in their voice mail system that you can enter an extension number and get transferred straight to it. I tried multiple times, with all sort of additional characters, but to no avail. OK, I'll just talk to a real person then. "Press 1 for English."

Second problem: real person took quite some time to grasp the concept that I could be anyone other than the miscreant they were trying to reach. This really was quite theatrical by itself, albeit in a Kafkaesque sort of way. Regardless, I decided to cut to the chase.

"OK, please just transfer me to Claire on extension 1386 and I'll sort it with her."

"Sorry, sir, I can't do that. It's not possible." Now it was my turn to flounder.

"You mean to say that you don't have an internal phone directory, nor even a way to electronically transfer the call?"

"No sir."

So now we go from the theatrical to the farcical.

"Sir, what's your social security number?" You can imagine my reaction to some debt collection agency asking me for that information, so after I'd explained in excruciating detail why a) that's none of her business and b) it will not help one iota in sorting the problem, I offered instead the case ID I had from the voice mail. "That doesn't help, sir." I can only infer, therefore, that it was made up by the unattainable Claire to give credence to the sting operation they thought they were running, the effectiveness of which was left somewhat in question when, in order to get to a real person, you first had to listen to a voice droning on about how this was a debt collection agency and how they would tape it for "training" purposes.

"So what do you need from me in order to stop idiots in your employ calling me to collect someone else's debt?".

"What's your address?", was her reply. Dear God, how many times do I have to explain the concept of having an outdated number on file tied to someone who just plain isn't me??

I'll spare you the rest of the utterly pointless dialogue by just saying that there was no way of tracking this case except for the name, which she couldn't find on the system, or via SS's SS number, which I most-antisocially didn't seem to have to hand.

I fully expect they will call again tomorrow, the next day and the day after that. One part of me wants to see how long they will persevere in the "bang you head on a brick wall" approach of endless unanswered calls before giving up, while another part of me wants to see if I can get from them what the debt is for and how big it is.

I think I'll let the hand of telephonic fate decide: to pick-up or not to pick-up, that is the question ... more news as it happens.

2 comments: said...

Send them a Do Not Call letter be sure to send it certified mail. The letter is as follows:

If I receive any telephone calls from your company, I will consider them to constitute harassment. Please be advised that unwanted telephone calls are a class 1 misdemeanor in this state and I will file a complaint against the caller with the attorney generals office. I maintain a telephone log of each phone call and in some cases, make an audio recording when necessary.
Send me a copy of your written policy for maintaining a “do not call” list. The Telephone Solicitation Act requires that such policy be made available upon demand. This Federal statute imposes a $500 fine against unwanted telephone solicitation. I do not want you to call me. If you do call me, you agree to pay, on a for-hire basis, my telephone equipment and time in answering your call at a rate of no less than $500 per call.
Be advised that you have the right to remain silent. If you ignore this notice and contact me by telephone, you and your employees agree to allow me to make an audio recording of our conversation and you and your employees agree to allow the recording and any other information to be used against you and your employees in a court of law. I will accept only your written communication.
You should also be aware that sending unsubstantiated demands for payment through the United States Postal System might constitute mail fraud under federal and state law. You may wish to consult with a competent legal advisor before your next communication with me.

Best regards,
Your Signature

I said...

you have goota pickup just for the grins afterwards! Someone actually does this 5 days a week....jeez!