Why you may’t conceal from debt collectors

Mach 23, 2014 ?? – I haven’t spoken to my former roommate Patti in years. But it only took Bill Bartmann, a debt collection veteran, a few minutes to find her name and the address of the house we shared in the early 1990s.

Less than a day after asking Bartmann what he could find out about me, he gave me a long list of the addresses of places I had lived over the years – including my dormitory address, which would be very difficult for me to press, to remind me He also dug up a list of relatives and details about them, including my husband and father’s ages and the first five digits of their social security numbers. and former neighbors (some of whom I had never met) along with their ages, their SSNs and phone numbers first.

He found all of this by just my name, and the information was spot on. Even if you tried to hide from debt collection agencies, it would be next to impossible.

“Any data you can imagine, including your phone records, watch out – we have it,” says Alexis Moore, a debt collection agent and industry consultant. Most people “have no idea how cyberspace made it easy to find someone anywhere, anytime with the click of a mouse,” she adds.

If collection agencies want to find you, there are many tools available to them. If they can’t find you or want to learn more about your ability to pay off debts, they can turn to tools known in the industry as “skip tracing”. How do you do that?

Information You Provide

The debtors themselves are one of the best sources of information, say most collectors. They start with the information of their client – the lender or the company to which the money was originally owed. This can include “loan applications, agreements, contracts, personal guarantees, orders and / or emails, or orders for services or products,” says Michelle Dunn, debt collection expert.

In fact, these are the dates that many collectors prefer. “Debt collectors don’t want to have to skip the trail to find a consumer,” said Nick Jarman, chief operations at Delta Outsource Group Inc., a debt collection agency. “Much of this is counterproductive. We want to use the information from the original creditor.”

That said, once you’ve completed an application listing your mother as the next of kin who doesn’t live with you, it should come as no surprise if the collector calls her when they can’t find you.

Credit reports & scores

A debt collector trying to collect a debt that you normally owe can get your credit reports, although not all of them will. The reason why they might not? Costs.

Both Roger Weiss, chief operations officer at debt collection agency CACI, and Jarman say their companies will likely use credit scores before they pull up a consumer’s full credit reports as the first option is cheaper. Weiss also says his firm is careful about credit pulling because it creates credit inquiries that can lower the debtor’s credit scores. “We’re very careful because we don’t want to make a hard request,” he says.

However, a full report can be helpful – when a collector knows what to look for, says Moore. “A seasoned veterinarian researcher knows that every piece of data is critical. Hence, credit inquiries, debited accounts, address history, and name variations matter and are invaluable.”

You can find out if a collector has checked your credit reports or credit scores by getting your free annual credit report from all three major credit reporting agencies. Any request for your report – or scores – will appear on your report. (If you want to see how your collection accounts are affecting your credit scores, you can use a free tool like Credit Report Card, which lets you view two of your credit scores for free and explain the top factors that will help or harm you .)


When Bartmann, now president of the Center for Consumer Recovery, was collecting information on me, he was only using a few of the many databases that were used to collect and sell information about consumers. “As a debt collection agency, you can sign up for a whole range of services,” he says. “In an age of big data, they’ve been gathering all kinds of information about us, some with your permission, sometimes without it.”

Some resources are available for free, such as WhitePages.com, Weiss points out. “Then there are fee-based compilation services, for example when people register for (competitions) or change their address.”

LexisNexis Accurint and SearchAmerica are two examples of popular databases that Dunn mentioned. Accurint bills itself as “a direct link to over 37 billion current public records” while SearchAmerica “offers a much more accurate model for predicting the likelihood that a consumer will pay their medical bills”.

In addition to checking what has been reported about you by the three major credit bureaus for free once a year, you can also get free reports on yourself from some other national consumer reporting agencies, provided they have data on you. However, it would be a difficult and often futile task to track down all of your information from all sources.

Social media

Evade debt? You might want to think twice about posting on social media the picture of the jewelry you just gave your girlfriend. Unless your privacy settings are high, this information can be read by anyone, including a collector, who may be looking for information about your income, assets, or spending patterns.

“Yes, bill collectors use social media to find their debtors,” says Natasha Carmon, a writer who says she has worked with various collection agencies.

“In a divorce case, I discovered that a woman had received a new vehicle through pictures on her Facebook page,” says attorney Tiffany S. Franc. “The vehicle was considered marital property as the parties were still married at the time and it helped my clients negotiate other matters in settling.” She also says she used LinkedIn profiles to find out where debtors are employed to garnish wages. She continues:

“We read through Facebook and social media pages and even when consumers don’t write on their bank account, they have often liked their bank’s page to let us know where their bank is. And consumers with assets they really value – collectibles, beautiful cars, motorcycles, antiques – often post pictures of these items on their social media. “

Not all collectors use social media to find information about debtors. Weiss and Jarman say their companies have made a “business decision” not to do so, in part for security reasons. And it’s not currently clear what type of social media information collector can be used without violating consumer and privacy laws. But right now, it’s probably safe to say that whatever you post is fair game.

Even with all of this information available, there are still some that are prohibited to collectors. “The database I’d like to pick up is the Domino (Pizza) database,” says Weiss. “Everyone is in there.”

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