Debt collectors are stealthy in their quest for information. Not only will they contact people close to you (embarrassingly so), they will sometimes stray outside of legal boundaries to track you down and inform you of allegedly outstanding debt. Don’t be intimidated by their maneuvers; instead, educate yourself about how they operate and your rights.
The collection agencies’ most common (legal) method of gathering information is known as skip tracing. Aided by a search engine, they enter your name, address, or phone number and cross-reference it with your relatives, employers, friends, and neighbors. How do they affiliate these people with you? The answer comes in many forms, including:
- Credit applications that ask for relatives or cosigners
- A change of employment on your credit report
- Proximity of your last address to others in your neighborhood
- People possessing the same address, phone number, and/or last name
- Publicly available databases (like Intelius.com or USSearch.com, among others) that list family members
Once the collection agencies compile their list, the string of phone calls begins. They will ask where you are, if they can leave a message, and will likely follow up with your acquaintances in order to track you down.
The Shame Tactic
True, collection agencies contact your friends and family to locate you, but another reason lies solely with emotion. Collectors know the inherent shame associated with bad credit, and they also know debtors are more likely to pay if they are motivated by guilt and urgency to stop their calls. Without a doubt, there is no better way to instill these feelings than to call your best friend or cousin with ominous sounding but vague requests for your whereabouts. Although they can’t legally tell anyone straight out that they’re attempting to collect a bad debt from you, the vague phone calls can be incredibly embarrassing nonetheless..
Unfortunately, collection agencies are equipped with broad resources to locate a debtor, and federal law allows them to do it. However, keep in mind that while the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) does allow certain freedoms, they are stringent when it comes to others. For example, while a collection agency may call your family and friends and ask how to reach you, they may not:
- Discuss the details of your account
- Acknowledge that they are a debt collector
- Insinuate that you haven’t paid an outstanding obligation
- Lie or threaten action
- Attempt to collect money from other parties
- Call repeatedly/exhibit harassing behavior
If your friends somehow know the details of your past-due credit account or are receiving calls late at night, the collection agency has crossed the line legally and could face serious charges.
In the age of technology, digging up a person’s bad credit is easier than it once was. Bank accounts, credit reports, personal and professional connections all serve as valuable sources during a skip trace search. If you feel that a collection agency is abusing your information, brush up on FDCPA regulations or talk to an attorney who specializes in consumer advocacy and credit repair. Collection agencies have a right to inquire, but they don’t have a right to injure your reputation.