December 20, 2008

Robo Debt Collector

I received a press release the other day - why, I'm not sure - about a company offering new technology to law firms. Here is how it was described: "Technology Company Offers Voice Recognition Solution with Settlement Overtures to Reduce Operational Burden of Collection Attorneys." Did you get that? If you're like me, you had to read it about four times and still couldn't grasp what they meant. I had to read on, and I'm still not sure I completely understand it, but apparently it is computerized auto-dialer and caller that makes collection calls and, get this, through the voice recognition technology, even makes payment arrangements with the alleged debtors. It "has been designed specifically for law firms that are purchasing debt or working on behalf of clients for collection purposes."

First, did you know that some law firms are actually purchasing debt themselves? That's right. Just like debt collectors like Asset Acceptance, LVNV and others, some law firms now buy old debt for pennies on the dollar and proceed to attempt to collect on it. Being a law firm, it's easy for them to sue people since they don't have to hire an attorney. And they get to keep every penny they collect. What keeps them in check? Supposedly the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but that only works if people know their rights and do something about it when they are violated. Also, law firms have to worry about their lawyers' law licenses, which can be revoked for unethical conduct.

I think it just kind of looks bad to judges when a law firm is suing someone on a debt they bought. I've often wondered how often these firms sue under the name of the original creditor (not very often, I hope) or some kind of holding company they use to buy the debt (all the time, I imagine).

Moving on to the technology itself, I'm not sure what I think about it. On the one hand, I can't see the robo collector being nearly as nasty and verbally abusive as some real-people-debt-collectors are. So I guess that would be a good thing. On the other hand, how do you explain to this machine that they have the wrong person? Not that real-people-debt-collectors really listen to the people they call anyway, but it seems to me it would be even more difficult to get this machine to listen to a person's explanation of why they don't owe this debt and to take action to resolve the situation. Hmmmmm. I guess we'll see...

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