Collection Agents: How Did They Find Me?

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Posted in Debt Help
Posted by J. Douglas Hoyes, CA, CPA, LIT, CIRP, CBV

collection agents privacy

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It might surprise you to know just how many tools collection agents have to be able to locate you when you owe money. Today I talk with Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer, Managing Partner of Kingston Data & Credit, a collection agency servicing Canada and parts of the United States. Blair is a past guest from show #20 where we discussed the collections process and how to stop collection calls. He’s back to give me an insider’s perspective about ways that collection agents find debtors, including the use of social media to do it, and what you should do once they’ve successfully contacted you.

Collection Agents Use “Ridiculous Amounts of Data”

Gone are the days when collection agents sat smoking at their desks, flipping through index cards and telephone books to find ways to contact debtors. Blair explains that today, there is no shortage of information available to the general public and debt collectors because

there are ridiculous amounts of data available now through the internet, through databases, through information technology, and a lot of people aren’t aware of what can and can’t be used.

Now, a collection agent can search databases like the Canada Post National Change of Address Database or Canada 411; they can also pull a full credit bureau on an individual over the computer. In an age of technology where our information gets logged every time we sign up for something online, whether we provide information to create a new login, apply for a new credit card or purchase items that require our personal information to be divulged, anonymity has become a thing of the past. We make it easy for people to find us.

But what if an agent has the wrong information?

Not all data is current or accurate. However, collection agents can only go by the information that they have been given. A collection agency’s data is gathered from the original creditor’s logs, and agents will assume that the information is correct, until proven otherwise. This is why many people receive collection calls intended for someone else. If the wrong person has been reached, agents will then proceed to search for new data by following leads provided by the original creditor such as your birth date, social insurance number, drivers license number and an employer in an attempt to reach you. Once the correct information has been found, they’ll update your file with the “best known data”.

Your Social Media Accounts Are Making You Easy To Find

There are laws that protect our privacy and they include social media. For example, collection agents are not allowed to use data that they found on a social media account because the information was not intended for collection agencies.

But that doesn’t mean that all agencies follow this rule.

If your social media accounts include contact information like a phone number or address, or if you’re uploading pictures that include your house number in the background, that information is out there for all to see.

What’s more is that databases exist that are able to pull information from social media accounts and other online sources to compile reports that provide a detailed list about you, at the click of a button. Blair points out that

not only can we go to a website like Pipl.com and pull up your Facebook, your Twitter account, your local bowling league stats, we do a search through a database called Teranet and see if you’re on the title of your house, who owns your mortgage, how much equity is in your house; there isn’t a lot of secret data anymore.

Social media is constantly changing, and so is the way that people can access your information. Although hypothetical, Blair explains that some people have suggested that a person’s credit score be determined by the longevity of their Facebook account because “it’s really hard to invent a social media identity and keep it going over years and years and years”. Although it may seem extreme, these ideas are coming ever closer to reality with things like Facebook’s recently publicized patent that would allow lenders to assess an individual’s friends on Facebook to determine their credit worthiness.

“Triggers”: Your Information Sent Straight To An Agent’s Inbox

I ask Blair what he means by the word “trigger” and how it can be used to find debtors. He explains that agencies can go in and pull a credit bureau scrub to receive contact information including addresses and phone numbers for thousands of files at once, within 15 minutes.

For those individuals lacking data, agencies can pay a monthly cost to activate a “trigger” function that alerts them to new data. Blair explains that

…if they suddenly surface, or they get a new address or a new phone number, we get an email alert.

What’s more is that it’s not uncommon for an account to be managed by different individuals at the agency over time. In fact an account can change hands “two to eight times over five to six years”. The trigger function allows whomever is assigned to the account at that time to locate you. So what could set off a trigger alert? Blair’s example is that of a person applying for a new credit card. On the application form, it is necessary to fill out your address and phone number, and as soon as you do, an email will be sent to your collectors who have signed up for this trigger function. So if you owe money on an old debt, then apply for new credit, chances are the collection agent will find you again and start calling.

So what can you do to reduce your data footprint?

Be mindful of the information that you’re putting out for the public to see on all of your social media accounts. This includes reviewing your privacy settings, not using your full name and not accepting friend requests from people that you don’t know. Be proactive and Google your own name to see what a basic search will provide to those looking to locate you. Check your online footprint through tools the collections agencies use like Pipl.com. Consider who might see your information when filling out applications or creating new accounts.

And last but not least, if you’re tired of trying to hide from collection calls, it might be time to consider filing a consumer proposal or personal bankruptcy to receive creditor protection. Once you file, a “stay of proceedings” is put in place that stops collection calls, reducing your stress so that you can focus on becoming debt free.

Listen to the full show or read the transcript below for more information about:

  • What you should do when a collection agent contacts you.
  • What information collection agents can provide in a voicemail message, text message or email correspondence and to an employer.
  • When collection agents will report your account to the credit bureau.

Resources Mentioned in the Show:

FULL TRANSCRIPT show #57 with Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer

collection-agents-privacy-transcriptDoug Hoyes: Have you ever wondered how a bill collector was able to find you? I’ve had hundreds of people over the years come into my office and say yeah I had this cell phone bill from five years ago, and I hadn’t heard from the in five years and then all of a sudden they started calling me. I moved, so I live in a different town and I’m at a new job and I have a new phone number so I have no idea how they tracked me down. Well, that is an interesting question. How does a collection agent find you? That’s the question we’re going to answer today on Debt Free in 30 and I know just the guy who has the answer. So, let’s get started. Who are you and what do you do?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: My name is Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer, I’m the managing partner of Kingston Data and Credit, which is a collection agency across Canada and parts of the U.S.

Doug Hoyes: Well, great thanks for being here today Blair. In fact thanks for being back on the show. You were my guest all the way back on show number 20 and this is show number 57. So, that was about nine months ago that you were on the show. You gave us some great advice on that show on how to deal with collection calls. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes at hoyes.com to that show.

So, let’s get back to the question. How did they find me? So, what’s the answer? You run a collection agency so you’re the guy who is out there tracking people down, that’s your job. How do you do it? How do collection agents do it?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Well, I guess a lot of people wouldn’t see what happens internally. But one thing to understand is collection agencies aren’t what they used to be. When I first got into the business there were a bunch of people smoking at their desks working off index cards. Obviously, there is ridiculous amount of data available now through the internet, through data bases, through information technology and a lot of people aren’t aware of what can and can’t be used. I just received a batch of 15,000 collection accounts. And we were able to contact one of the credit bureaus and say give us their up to date address and phone number and within 15 minutes we had 6,000 phone numbers returned to us.

Doug Hoyes: So, let me just stop you there. So, 15,000 – a list of 15,000 people to collect from, and in a very short period of time you had updated phone numbers for a big chunk of them.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: That’s right.

Doug Hoyes: And in the old days, you would have literally gone to your old stack of phone books from across the country and tried to look them up. And of course you couldn’t find them cause they’re all old phone books.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: We actually had a guy drive across Canada picking up phone books at Bell Centres, you’re not wrong and going to the library to use the Vernon’s Directory to reverse look up phone numbers.

Doug Hoyes: So, is this 1920? How old are you?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: [laughter] That was in the 90’s.

Doug Hoyes: In the 90’s, wow.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: And now I can do a search through the Canada Post National Change of Address Database from my office. Or I can pull a full credit bureau on somebody over a computer rather than a fax request. Things have changed so much in the last 20 years and also people aren’t – often people aren’t aware of what kind of a data trail they’re leaving. I’d advise all your readers, Google yourself, see what’s out there, see what’s on the internet. Cause there’s a ridiculous amount of data.

Doug Hoyes: So, let’s talk about that, a ridiculous amount of data. So, if we were to do a search for me or you or somebody else you’re collecting from – let’s go through the process with this 15,000 list of names then.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Okay, so we receive accounts in collections. And those accounts could be 30 days old; they could be five years old. So, the data could be good or it could be bad. So, it’s really based on what the original creditor did and we – we’re not psychic – we only know what we know. So, we’re going to assume a phone number on file is good until proven otherwise. That’s why I’m sure you get a lot of your listeners calling in going, this agency’s calling the wrong number. Well, we don’t know it’s the wrong number.

Doug Hoyes: Cause that was the phone number of the guy five years ago. You’ve now got the phone number, they don’t know any better.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly. And, you know, obviously if we’re calling there might be five or six other collection agencies calling that same number for a debtor who no longer has that phone. But let’s assume we have data and it’s good. Obviously, picking up the phone or calling or emailing or texting is right available. Let’s assume the data’s bad. We’ll go to whatever data the creditor had. For example, some creditors ask you for personal references; we may have that. They’ll ask for an address, they’ll ask for a social insurance number, a date of birth, a driver’s license number, an employer. We’ll have a certain amount of data that we start with and it’s our responsibility to reach the right person if possible.

Doug Hoyes: Well, cause if you reach the wrong person you’re not going to collect money, you’re not going to collect any money on it. So, you’ve got this list of 15,000 names. So, the first thing you did was run it through the credit bureau?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yes, we ran it through Equifax.

Doug Hoyes: And you can do that very quickly.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yeah.

Doug Hoyes: And because you’re linked in with Equifax this is not a huge expense to you I assume. It didn’t cost you a million dollars to do all these searches.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Certainly less than paying somebody to look through the phone book one at a time.

Doug Hoyes: Got you, and it all comes back to you electronically.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: That’s right.

Doug Hoyes: And it’s all in your computer now.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: And we update the consumer’s file with the best known data. And so, a collector sitting in our office will see Bob Smith owes $800. And it’ll say we pulled the person’s Equifax and here’s their phone number, it was good as of February 2015, here’s the last known address, it was good as of April 2015. And the credit bureau gets their data from the other creditors.

So, if you have a cell phone and you make your payment once a month, every month not only is your cell phone company reporting to the credit bureau Bob made his payment on time, they’re also saying and he still lives at this address and this is still his phone number, and so on. So, the credit bureau is this huge flux of data coming from creditors, likewise, when I take my 15,000 consumer’s list in our office and I ask the credit bureau for data, they take my data, my last known address and phone number and append it into their database and they try to determine whether my number is better than the one they have on file, if my address is better than the one they have on file. If a consumer goes to Trans Union or Equifax, they can actually request a list of who’s reporting and who’s inquiring. And for the most part, they can see all that data.

Doug Hoyes: So, if you’re collecting from Bob Smith, and Bob if you’re listening sorry that we’re using you as an example here, but you’re collecting from Bob Smith and let’s say the address and the phone number that was in Equifax was old, but you were able to do a Google search, find the guy, so you put that information into your system, is that then also going back to Equifax at some point?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Maybe.

Doug Hoyes: Maybe.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: If we’re trying to reach Bob, poor Bob. And Bob takes care of his account and we’ve had his account 30, 60, 90 days, he’s co-operated with us, there’s been no issue, we have no need to report his debt to his bureau. That’s the bad news, that’s the consequence. If we reach Bob and say, Bob, would you like to pay this or would you like us to list it on your credit bureau and Bob pays it, we don’t want to affect him negatively.

But let’s say we can’t find Bob, or Bob tell us, go to hell in a hand basket. Yes. We’re going to report that debt to the bureau and yes his updated information that we’ve accumulated will be reported to the bureau. And it’s not that we’re trying to do something to Bob individually. For example, our agency updates the credit bureaus in Canada and the U.S twice a month and we’re uploading hundreds of thousands of people at a push of a button.

Doug Hoyes: And that’s what big data is, it’s very quick and very fast.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yeah.

Doug Hoyes: So, I want to get back to this whole idea of what gets on the credit bureau. But before we do that then, you’ve got this new list of creditors, you go through Equifax and dump out the most recent information.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly

Doug Hoyes: And then I would assume if I was doing this I would have a list now and I would on my computer sort it for all the people that have the most current information and those are the people I would start calling.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly.

Doug Hoyes: And the people I don’t have any information for are at the bottom of my list and I’ll get to them when I get to them, or never.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Well, it depends on the agency. Like some agencies use predictive diallers. So, they’ll take all 6,000 and call them in the first hour and just hammer them and call them three or four times a day. Not necessarily the best approach in my opinion, but that’s how a lot of old school, hardnosed collection agencies work. I would rather have someone manually call and verify it’s correct and speak to them person-to-person but I’m crazy according to the competitors.

Doug Hoyes: Yeah, that’s not the way a lot of them do it. So, okay so you’ve picked the low hanging fruit, you’ve got the obvious data from Equifax, but there’s still a bunch of people that didn’t show up there.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Sure.

Doug Hoyes: What other things are you going to do then?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Well, depending what province they’re in, like in Ontario it’s required that we mail a letter. We say we got a new address, but not a new phone number; we’ll mail a letter to reach them. If we can’t find them through Equifax we’ll try through Trans Union. If we don’t find them through Trans Union, we’ll look on the Canada Post Change of Address Database. If that doesn’t work, yeah we’ll literally roll up our sleeves and log into Canada 411 and see if the person shows up. Or we’ll do a Google search and see what’s there, cautiously.

There’s a lot of hullabaloo right now about social media and what data’s allowed to be used and what’s not allowed to be used. I was at a conference last year and one of the people from the office of the Privacy Commissioner came and told all the collection agencies in the room, if you look at Bob’s Facebook and Bob has his phone number on there, technically Bob did not intend that for you, you’re not allowed to use it. But certainly there are agencies out there that might.

Doug Hoyes: So and that obviously raises an interesting question about social media. You said earlier that we all leave quite a footprint.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Absolutely, some more than others.

Doug Hoyes: And so if I’m on Facebook, and I’m actually not on Facebook, I have an account but I don’t know how to log into it and every time I log into I’ve got 9,000 friend requests. So, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that, so I’m not the expert on that. So, I’m on Facebook and I have a picture of me playing baseball, throwing the ball with my son on my front yard. And so if you could look at that picture you can see where I live cause there’s the number on the side of my house.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Absolutely.

Doug Hoyes: And so whether that’s legal or not for a collection agent or anyone else to use that information, cause what you just said was I didn’t intend for that information to be used for collections, the fact of the matter is, it’s there.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly. And some agencies would use that data. It’s not just that. Let’s say, Doug, you have an account in my office and we’re trying to locate you and you’ve been less than co-operative. And you owe $12,000 for a car lease. Not only can we go to a website like pipl.com and pull up your Facebook, your twitter account, your local bowling league stats, we can do a search through a database called Teranet and see if you’re own title on your house, who owns your mortgage, how much equity’s in your house there isn’t a lot of secret data anymore.

Back in the old days you’d have unpublished phone numbers and obviously cell phone numbers are not tracked by traditional phone directories, that data’s available through the credit bureau; that data’s available through social medial; that data’s available through a number of internal databases. And the thing that I think people don’t realize is that when a collection agency is making an attempt to call, they’re not trying to do so maliciously, they’re just trying to reach a person to make them aware, should you pay the debt or should it be listed on the bureau or in certain cases should it go legal. And we’re entirely pointed towards reaching people, that’s our job. We’re outward facing, trying to reach thousands of people a day and sometimes we’ll get answering machines, sometimes we’ll reach people, sometimes we’ll exchange emails with a consumer, but we’re geared towards doing that on a massive scale. It would be in our best interest to reach people efficiently, politely, professionally and within the law, that’s ultimately our goal.

Doug Hoyes: And deal with it.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yeah.

Doug Hoyes: Now you mentioned pipl.com and I’ll put a link to this in the show notes, but pipl is pipl.com.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yeah.

Doug Hoyes: And from what I understand it is really a database of databases.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly, and it’s publically available. So, it’s not going to have necessarily the highest quality of data. One of the things you and I talked about earlier, there’s a website in the U.S called Spokeo. And Spokeo.com is a paid database. You can’t access a lot of it for free. But if you go into that, you can look up people in the U.S and it gathers census data, social media data, Google street view data and literally you can type in John Harrison. John Harrison lives in Michigan, you pull up all the John Harrison’s in Michigan, you pick the one in Dearborn, you click on it, and it shows you a Google street view of his house, the average market value of the houses in that area. Is he a democrat or a republican, the names of his relatives, a link to this Facebook account, his email address, his phone number, his date of birth, his spouse’s name, that’s the kind of data that’s available.

And people aren’t realizing when they answer a census or they buy something on Amazon.com they may be releasing that data for the purposes of – they may have agreed – when they buy something on amazon.com in the fine print it might say they have the right to resell your data. And amazon.com might, hypothetically, I don’t know if they do or not, may have a revenue stream from selling that data to another database and that’s how this data gets around.

Doug Hoyes: And you’re just using them as an example, but literally you do anything with, potentially can be forwarding that data somewhere else.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Absolutely. So, if you get a cell phone with Virgin mobile, I guarantee you, you have signed off giving them the authorization to pull your credit data and to report to the credit bureau. And that’s all entitled under the Consumer Reporting Act of Ontario, in Ontario for example.

Doug Hoyes: Yeah and that is probably similar with other cell phone providers, yeah.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yeah.

Doug Hoyes: And the website you mentioned in the U.S Spokeo.com, there isn’t something like that in Canada as comprehensively, yet.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: But it could be.

Doug Hoyes: And no doubt will be in the future. And that’s where it gets scary because I can go online if I want to track down this mythical Bob Smith and I can go this site, that site, the other site, Google searches and whatever. But once it gets to the point where it’s all in one central database, something like pipl.com that we talked about, well now it’s really easy for the collection agent. I type, like you say the guy’s name, oh there’s 15 of them in that city, let’s narrow it down, boom and so I can see everything he’s put on his twitter feed, maybe I see a bunch of stuff from his Facebook feed if it’s not locked down, whatever. Other places his name appears like you say his bowling league stats or whatever, it’s all there. And that makes it a lot easier I would assume, to find somebody.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: It can be, it can be. I’ll be honest, we probably only find on average 30 to 40% of the people listed in our office. And it’s tragic, but the 70% of the people we don’t find obviously we mail a letter, we try calling, the number’s not in service, we can’t get a hold of them, we upload that to the credit bureau because we have no other way to reach them. And we might get a call – I got a call yesterday evening. I was working in the office and this person in Alberta called into our office, I found this on my credit bureau, oh my god, how do I take care of this? Because that’s our only recourse at that moment, we haven’t had the chance to negotiate with the person before listing it on the bureau.

Doug Hoyes: And I guess all roads start pointing to the credit bureau, then.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Back in the old days, when we were using index cards and people were smoking at their desks, in the 80’s and 90’s, the big consequence for a collection agency was legal action. And everybody threatened to go legal, and this and that. And even to this day there’s still some remnants; you might owe $50 to Cogeco and suddenly you’re getting a lawyer’s demand letter. No one is going to go to court for $50. In this day and age, it costs, in Ontario it’s easy to take somebody to court but it costs about 400 or $500 to take something to garnishment. So, an account for $50, it’s not worthwhile.

But the credit bureau is so much more important now than it was 20 years ago. If you apply for a bank account, a new apartment, a job in some cases, people are pulling your credit data. And more people – in the last three, four years, cell phone companies have started reporting as trade line items to the credit bureau. So, now there’s even more data available than there was before. So, if somebody wants to check your credit score, they pull your bureau. And there are a bunch of radicals now talking about building a credit score based on a social media footprint. And it’s all hypothetical at this point, but it’s entirely possible that down the road, in five or ten years, your credit score will be determined by how long you’ve had your Facebook account because it’s really hard to invent a social media identity and keep it going over years and years and years. So, it’s a way to verify identity. And again, these are the crazy people off in the corner talking about this at collection agency conferences and banking conferences, but that’s something that could happen in five to ten years.

Doug Hoyes: Wow. And the credit bureau is a two way flow of information. So, anytime I do anything that could potentially impact my credit report, that information’s getting reported. So, I go to the local store, I won’t mention any names here and the lady out front is offering me their credit card.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yes, that application will update the bureau and determine whether you get a credit card. So, you might get a Dear John letter in the mail from department store X, I’m sorry we’re not giving you the credit card but you just updated your data.

Doug Hoyes: Because I put down my address, where I work, my phone number.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: And you signed off at the bottom consent for them to share that data, absolutely.

Doug Hoyes: Right, so it’s not just being used to determine whether I get the credit card or not, now my information has been updated. So, it could be that I’ve been off the radar for three or four years, I’ve now come back; maybe I was out of the province, the country or whatever. I’ve come back, none of the collection agencies can find me. I go and I apply for this credit card and bam within two weeks I’ve got 17 phone calls from all the people who are trying to track me down.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yes. A lot of the bigger agencies – obviously the credit bureau is a service. The charge consumers for credit monitoring, they charge creditors for the ability to report or inquire. And that’s how – and they make their money off of data.

Doug Hoyes: So, explain to me what the word trigger means?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Ahh! And that’s where I was going, so I can pull a credit bureau scrub, so the 15,000 accounts, I can go in and say give me their addresses and phone numbers. And for a minimal cost I’ll get those results back in 15 minutes. Or, I can give my staff access to individually pull full bureaus and it’ll show the last three addresses, place of employment, whether they pay their bills on time, who’s inquired about them, we can get a full bureau and that’s a few dollars.

Or, we can pay a larger amount and have a function called triggers. And what that function is say we have somebody, John Smith we can’t find, we can pay a monthly service and any account that we’re on their bureau for, the hundreds of thousands of people, if they suddenly surface or they get a new address or a new phone number, we get an email alert. John Smith has just resurfaced in Victoria B.C, here’s his new number. And that’s sometimes why people get a call out of the blue because an agency has – now typically the reason they get calls, how did the agency find me?

And people don’t necessarily see this, the collection agency calling you today might not be the agency that had your file one, two or three years ago. A lot of the big creditors will take the file when it’s delinquent and they’ll give it to a collection agency for six to 12 months. And if they don’t collect it, they’ll pull it back and give to a second agency for six to 12 months ,and if they don’t get it, even a third. And sometimes they’ll sign it to a fourth or they’ll sell it to a debt buyer who will then in turn assign it to a first agency. Your file, your collection file, can change hands two to eight times over five to six years.

Doug Hoyes: But with this trigger set up on your file, whenever something new happens it bounces a note to you and then you can follow up.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly. And that might be the third agency down the line.

Doug Hoyes: Wow, pretty cool. Excellent, well I appreciate that Blair. Thanks for giving us the insider’s view on this.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: No worries.

Doug Hoyes: Thank you. We’ll be right back to wrap it up right here on Debt Free in 30.

Let’s Get Started Segment

Doug Hoyes: It’s time for the Let’s Get Started segment here on Debt Free in 30. I’m Doug Hoyes and my guest today is Blair Demarco- Wettlaufer, who is a collection agent. In the first segment we talked about how they find you, what information they can pull, all the different resources that are out there for them. So, now that they’ve found you, the next logical question is, okay well, how are they allowed to contact me. So, what’s acceptable, what isn’t?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Certainly. Well, obviously the first step is the letter. And the best known address is the address the letter is mailed to.

Doug Hoyes: Now, when you say the first step is a letter, is that in every case?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: In Ontario, yes.

Doug Hoyes: So, in Ontario when you receive a file –

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: If we have an address on file, we’re required to mail a letter and wait six days.

Doug Hoyes: Mail a letter and wait, now if you don’t have an address on file or the address –

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Or it’s verified as mail returned, so we know it’s a bad address.

Doug Hoyes: Then you can phone.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Exactly. And we would proceed to a phone call. Obviously there are huge issues with the Collection and Debt Settlement Services Act in Ontario for example and there are similar laws in the other provinces about consumer privacy, and The Privacy Commissioner’s Office also has equal concerns about privacy. So, there are certain things we can and can’t do to contact someone. If we leave an answering machine for example, we can’t leave details about why we’re calling because someone else might get that message.

Doug Hoyes: So, an answering machine message, I guess we call it voicemail.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Yes.

Doug Hoyes: Cause we’re not in the days of the index cards anymore, right? So, what would the message be that you would leave?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Bob, this is a message to call Blair Wettlaufer, my number is.

Doug Hoyes: And that’s it.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Some might say from KDC or their company’s name as long as it doesn’t – you’re not allowed to indicate a debt, the creditor’s name, you can’t talk about money, those things are not permitted.

Doug Hoyes: I wonder if that rule will eventually change, now that we call have voicemail and I’m the only one who accesses my voicemail. I mean I guess it’s – that may be something that changes in the future.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: It might, but right now they’re erring on the side of caution. None of the laws actually address email or SMS texting. And we’ve had phones that can take texts for 20 years.

I talked to the Director of fair trade in Alberta and basically we text consumers and say Bob, it’s important please call Blair Wettlaufer, here’s my cell phone number or here’s my email address you can reach me at. And it’s permissible as long as we’re reasonable and we don’t disclose, you know we might have a wrong cell phone number.

We also can’t incur a cost, we can’t call someone collect, but if say someone is paying for the minute for a cell phone call, we’re not actually allowed to call a cell phone. So, if we call someone and they say hey I’m paying by the minute, you can’t call me on my cell phone, we have to stop.

Doug Hoyes: And are you sending more and more text messages now than you used to in the past?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: We probably send about 3,000 a day.

Doug Hoyes: Wow and so you have technology to do that. You don’t have someone sitting there on a cell phone.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: No, our database does that over the internet. And if somebody responses to a text we get an email. But we’re not allowed to disclose debt details or anything that would demean or affect the reputation of someone we’re calling. If we’re calling a reference or an employer, we’re not allowed to – all we’re allowed to do is ask, either ask for a name and number or in certain provinces we’re only allowed to confirm employment. We’re not allowed to divulge extra details.

Again, with email there’s actually been a lot of hullaballoo recently with the Canada Anti-Spam Legislation. There’s an exception saying that collection agencies, or anyone trying to enforce a right, has the right to text or email somebody. But, there are certain things we have to do; we have to respect their privacy. We can’t disclose outside details and if we’re told to stop contacting them by that method, in many provinces we’re required to stop.

Doug Hoyes: So, if I don’t want you contacting me anymore what do I have to do?

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: In Ontario, send a registered letter to the collection agency saying Dear Mr. Demarco Wettlaufer, I instruct you to only to communicate with my in writing by letter from this point forward, that’s it.

Doug Hoyes: And that’s it and then you have to comply with that.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: That’s right.

Doug Hoyes: So, and in Ontario you said your first option, what you’re required to do is send a letter so I should know who you are and who you’re collecting for.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: That’s right. And a consumer always has the right to re-request a letter. If the consumer’s being co-operative and everybody wants to work things out, they can have the letter sent by email. But technically, by law, if the consumer says I want you to physically mail me a letter to my address, here it is, the agency is required to do so a second time.

Doug Hoyes: And I guess what we have to point out here is I can jerk you, the collection agents, around as much as I want, I can say well I want you to re-confirm that, I want you to do this, I want you to do that, ultimately though, I still owe the money.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Possibly, possibly.

Doug Hoyes: Assuming it’s a legitimate debt and if I don’t pay it, all the normal repercussions are still there: you can send it back to the original creditor, they can take me to court, they can try to garnishee my wages. So, in call cases, it’s always better if possible to work something out. That’s what this really all comes down to.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Or just be honest. Like if we got a call from a consumer saying yes I know I owe this $800, I can’t pay it. I’m sorry, please go ahead with whatever consequences you need to do, I just lost my job, I’m $85,000 in debt, I’m discussing bankruptcy with a trustee. Just be honest. Some agencies will be very bull-doggish and some will work with the person and co-operate, it really depends. But there’s no danger in being honest.

Doug Hoyes: And I guess that’s a great way to end it. And so how should you deal with a collection agent? Be honest, that’s what it comes down to.

Blair Demarco-Wettlaufer: Absolutely.

Doug Hoyes: Excellent. Great, thanks very much for being with me today Blair, that was the Let’s Get Started here on Debt Free in 30, I’ll be back to wrap it up right after this.

Doug Hoyes: Welcome back. It’s time for the 30 second recap of what we discussed today. My guest today was Blair Demarco Wettlaufer, who runs a collection agency. And he gave us a great insider’s view of how a collection agent can track down a debtor. As he said, collectors have access to a ridiculous amount of data. So, more often than not they can track you down. That’s the 30 second recap of what we discussed today.

So, what’s my advice if you have debt and you’re trying to hide from a collection agent? Well, you’ve got two options; first, you can try to go completely off the grid. That means you can’t have a home phone or a cell phone in your own name and you can’t have any credit cards or any other type of debt that would be reported to the credit bureau. You can’t even apply for credit because that may trigger an alert from the credit bureau to the collection agency. Going off the grid is not easy to do in this day and age where we need credit for many aspects of modern life.

Your other option is to accept the inevitable; the bill collectors will probably find you, so your best option is to deal with your debt. If your debt is manageable, make payment arrangements with the collection agent. If you’ve got multiple creditors after you and your debt is more than you can handle, you need to get professional advice on how you can become debt free.

That’s our show for today. Full show notes are available on our website including links to many different options for becoming debt free, so, please go to our website at hoyes.com, that’s h-o-y-e-s-dot-com, for more information.