Receivable/Accounts - Information for Credit and Collection Issues

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Review of Wolf At The Door - Part III

Let’s get down to brass tacks.  Mr. Silverthorn is in the business of representing consumers. He makes his living either by representing clients on an hourly rate or a percentage of settlements, but his interests lie in having consumers retain him. Myself, I am in the business of representing creditors.  My company makes its money by successfully collecting outstanding accounts from debtors.  Technically we are both working at cross purposes, so we are bound to have a difference of opinion or two.  But I will be honest, neither Mr. Silverthorn’s book, nor my blog are necessarily the best options for consumer advice.  But encouraging consumers to explore options and reading all the advice available is certainly a good start.

I agree with Mr. Silverthorn when he says that you must follow a professional career that lets you sleep well at night.  I have briefly worked at collection agencies I was appalled at their management styles or collection tactics allowed.  I currently work with a company that allows me to ensure our collection staff adhere to a code of ethics and do not use vulgarity, make false claims, or hound a debtor over and over after they have indicated they will not pay.  I am grateful that I have the latitude to build a positive work environment – many people out there are simply looking for work, and work as collectors at a collection agency that is a “sweat shop”. 

No one goes to ‘Bill Collector School’ for their ‘Bill Collector Diploma’.   Almost everyone ends up in the collection industry by accident.  Many do not last, either due to management failing to train and work with their staff, or because their personality does not allow them to effectively work as a collection agent.  I’m sure that Mr. Silverthorn has worked with many various collectors of differing backgrounds, and some worked well within the laws, and some who flagrantly defied the boundaries of our profession.

On to the book – it is clear to me that Mr. Silverthorn has been exposed to collection agents that have lied, taken pleasure in having debtors put their furniture on the lawn “for the sheriff to pick up for repossession”, and other unsavoury tactics.  Some of his advice likely comes from exposure to this sort of mentality, and I would debate some of his advice given in his book.


The Bad

The tactics for avoiding a debt that Mr. Silverthorn lays out may work, if your account is not well managed by a large collection agency, is handled by a poorly trained or inexperienced collection agent, or they do not maintain a membership with the credit bureau or a paralegal or lawyer to undertake legal action.  However, there are some items of advice I believe are dangerous to the consumer.

Lying to the Collection Agency

I have a very strong reaction to Mr. Silverthorn stating in his Forward of the book that he had a change of heart, and sleeps better at night following a more ethical path of representing consumers, and at the same time encouraging consumers who read his book to be deceitful and lie to collection agencies!  While this strikes me as possibly hypocritical, it can also horribly backfire on the consumer.

I disagree with telling the collection agency you are not the debtor, when you actually are.  For any experienced collector, this will not stop calls, and will increase any level of antagonism you may be suffering, as you have proven to the collector that you are dishonest.  If your telephone number is registered to you or your spouse, your home is on title to you or your spouse, the collector and/or creditor has personal references you have provided, or the agency has a copy of your application or credit bureau to prove you have lied, this is a serious misstep, and the calls to you may resume almost immediately. 

My advice?  If you want calls to stop, tell the collection agency you are not paying.  If you can live with the consequences of the credit bureau or potential legal action, don’t dance around the issue at hand which is foremost in the collector’s mind: are you paying, or not?

In general, most collectors spend at least 50% of their time reaching out to consumers who are avoiding contact.  They spend 30% of their time performing investigation or skip-trace work, and only 20% of their time speaking to consumers regarding their accounts.  From the perspective of a collection agent, they are often yelled at or treated poorly by consumers who are emotionally distraught over their finances.  They are often lied to by people trying to hide from their debt.  They receive promises of payment that never happen.  They don’t need to give much time or focus to the people meeting their arrangements or offering to pay.  They spend the bulk of their time chasing down broken promises and investigating files that are questionable.  Ultimately, they are making decisions on each file they work each day: is this file paying or not?  Do not put yourself in a category of someone who has lied, as this makes you someone who should pay, but is uncooperative.  This will bring extra focus to your file, which is the exact opposite of what you are attempting to achieve.

Another piece of advice is screening your calls with another person.  I have to tell you, one of the most depressing things I have ever seen, and it happens all the time, is a debtor using their spouse or small children to screen calls from collection agents and lie that their parents aren’t home, their spouse is in the shower every time there is a call, or claiming that they have the wrong number.  Why would you do this?  If you are scared of speaking directly to the collection agent, write them a letter or an email. A professional collector is trying to reach you to make you aware of your debt, and determine whether you will pay or not.  The consequences of affecting your credit rating or starting legal action will happen whether you take the call or not.  It’s possible if you take the call the agency will give you alternatives to pay (ie. settlement, payment arrangements, credit counselling, consolidation loans) that you would not have had previously.  Sticking your head in the sand is not going to make your situation better.

If you are confronted by a belligerent, unprofessional, or unreasonable collector that you cannot deal with, by all means speak to their supervisor, write a letter to the agency, or refuse their calls.  But until that point, I would urge you to attempt to deal with your debts and obligations in an honest, forthright manner.

Hiding Your Money

While some of the advice in this book on how to avoid being sued is accurate, I saw one area that immediately jumped out at me as flawed information.  I have personally engaged in hundreds of small claims court actions, either directly or through a paralegal employed by my company, and hiding your money is not a good strategy, as one thing that is not mentioned in detail in the book is the Judgment Debtor Exam.

First, if you have a judgment against you, it is enforceable for ten years, and renewable for a further ten.  That’s a long time to be hiding.  If a creditor receives a judgment against you, and they do not have an immediate method to execute the judgment (such as a wage garnishment), they can have you summoned to a judgment debtor examination, where they meet with you and an officer of the court, and they can ask many supervised questions regarding your financial situation, and demand copies of your bank statements, paystubs, income tax returns, and more.  Failure to answer these questions, provide documentation promptly, or appear for the Examination can result in a contempt of court order, which can carry a bench warrant for arrest, in extreme cases.


Conclusion

Thus ends my three-part review of The Wolf At The Door.  You will note that while this book is against collection agencies on the whole, I personally had more positives than negatives to say about his book.

Mr. Silverthorn is receiving a lot of media attention lately, and I think that through media awareness, he may end up being responsible for changes or reform in the collection industry.  I don’t see that as a bad thing at all.  I started in this business over twenty years ago, when collectors smoked at their desk, threatened the sheriff’s office to come and deliver legal action, issued five to seven letters per debtor account, computers were new to the collection industry, and there was no consumer awareness or advocacy.  That time is long gone.  I would welcome a number of reforms in our industry, and it can only start when someone starts a discussion.  Mr. Silverthorn’s book is an excellent starting point. 

I certainly hope that should this review come to Mr. Silverthorn’s attention, that he can appreciate my differing viewpoint and experiences, and he takes my review of his work kindly.  I wish him all the best in his professional pursuits, and I wonder if there will be another book forthcoming...

Blair Wettlaufer