Confessions of an ex-collection agent

Hello, my name is Steven Church. I know the byline above reads differently, but 17 years ago that's how people at work knew me.

You see, I was a collection agent outside Philadelphia, and that was my alias, or "dunning name."

It was an odd work environment. Most people there knew one another only by these names. So I simply referred to my co-workers as "Post," "Turner," and yes, even "Roberts." (It just wasn't me.)

Every day, we'd call people who had stopped paying their MasterCards, Visas, and assorted retail and gasoline cards. Our job: Get them to pay the entire balance or resume payments - or recommend that the matter go to court.

At times, such demands would lead to "R&R." No, not rest and relaxation. This was shorthand for going "round and round" over a payment arrangement.

These calls would eventually go to my "manager," who often was the person sitting next to me, trying to collect other accounts. This technique could work. A second person would sound "more official," and could play me off as the bad guy.

Instead of paying, some people would react by getting an unlisted number. So I'd start "skiptracing," calling "nearbys," - local libraries, chambers of commerce, even neighbors - hoping to reach the debtor.

The job was a grind, and I don't begrudge those in this line of work today. They must play by the rules or face getting sued. Federal laws prevent third-party collectors from calling before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. If so notified by the debtor, collectors cannot contact them at work. Debtors can even force agencies to stop contacting them by putting a request in writing.

My recommendation: Avoid this whole mess - and pay cash.

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