This article is the third in an on-going series on the life of an account as it makes its way through the collection process at Collection Bureau Services, Inc.
So far our series has examined: Disclosure and validation requirements imposed on third-party collection agencies (such as CBS) under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and: actions such as phone calls and letters in the first 30 days on accounts with valid addresses and phone numbers.
As you might expect, many of the accounts sent to collections have incomplete or erroneous information in regard to the address or phone number of the consumer, and part of the service we provide to you involves finding new information on the consumer. In the jargon of the collection world, this is known as “skip-tracing”. Urban legend has it that the colloquialism came about in the mid-20th century. When a consumer wanted to avoid the local bill collector he would “skip” town. A little aside there from your local collection agency historian…
The FDCPA defines this action as “location Information” and has a pretty limiting definition of what a collector is allowed to ask a third party: “The term “location information” means a consumer’s place of abode and his telephone number at such place, or his place of employment.” A large part of each collectors day in our offices is devoted to this task. As mentioned in the last article, mailings to consumers are sent in such a fashion so that the US Postal Service will return the mail to us as undeliverable or with an address correction as the case may be. In this fashion we know pretty quickly if the current address in our file is a viable one. If it is not, we will look to a number of websites for assistance. Some of these are free while others are by subscription. On certain accounts we may be able to access the consumer’s credit report in an attempt to locate a new address.
Phone numbers are a whole different ballgame. More often than we’d like, either no one answers, or the answering machine does not identify the consumer. These generic answering machine responses (you’ve reached 532-1234…) don’t provide us with enough information to leave a message for the consumer. One of the requirements of the FDCPA is that there be no disclosure of the consumer’s debt, even by intimation, to third parties. Without a clear indication that the number belongs to the consumer we are trying to reach, we won’t leave a message. With the portability of cell phone numbers we’ve certainly seen an increase in consumers keeping the same number for long periods of time. Back in the land-line days, if the consumer moved, you would be assured the number would be disconnected. Not so these days. For that reason we will continue trying the number until we have a definitive reason to believe it is invalid. At the same time, many of the websites we use for address searches also contain telephone number information. The clever skip-tracer can cross-reference that information to deduce the most likely number the consumer will be reached at.
Skip-tracing is an art. It takes a certain amount of time and patience to develop proficiency. CBS’ ability to retain collectors long-term has certainly aided in our processes on your behalf in this area. Still, in today’s digital world we are al-ways on the look-out for the next best thing!
Next month: Payment arrangements and defaults