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Confessions of a Skip Tracer - Part II

Updated on May 13, 2014

Back Again

Hey there, it's the Skip Tracer, back again for round 2 of 'How to Protect Yourself'. As I've said before, I have roughly 5 years experience in the auto repossession industry as a Skip Tracer.

Now, in all honesty, I could be 'black-balled' for the information I'm releasing, but it's okay. I'm not releasing too many trade secrets.

Anyway, I'd like to talk today about a few other aspects of internet searches that can help save you from unwanted phone calls.

I'd also like to cover a ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union regarding the 'right to be forgotten', and how it can affect others, including citizens in the United States, in the future.

Phone Calls

I covered phone calls a little bit in the last post - mostly what debt collectors can and cannot say to you.

However, you do have a responsibility in regards to phone calls as well.

First, it's important to remember that debt collectors have certain items they must cover when contacting you via phone.

  1. A debt collector must provide their name - it does not have to be their full name
  2. A debt collector must provide their reason for calling - this can cause some difficulty as well, depending on who the debt collector is speaking with.

Now, if you ask a collector where they are calling from, and they respond with something like Boston, Massachusetts - they've sufficiently answered your question. However, if you ask them what company they're associated with, then they have to provide that information.

What I mean by 'depending on who the collector is speaking with' is it matters whether the collector is speaking with the debtor or with a reference, family member, or even a spouse. I'll explain the difference between common law and community property states in a bit.

A debt collector is bound by law to only discuss your debt with you or your attorney (in most situations). So if a collector is speaking with your mother, they're going to provide a different reason for calling, and if they don't, they're in violation of the FDCPA. Most likely, they'll respond with "I'm just trying to get in contact with (your name)" or "It's in regards to an important business matter". They have to be rather vague, as they cannot disclose the debt to anyone you haven't given authorization to.

Now, a collector can contact you as often as necessary within reasonable expectations. This means they can call, usually limited to three times a day, and leave one message overall. This is per phone number they find. So if you have a landline and a cell phone, a collector could call you six times between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm in your time zone. It's not enough to tell them to stop contacting you. The only way a collector becomes legally bound to stop calling you is when you submit a letter to the originator of the debt (the bank through which you originally got the loan). The 'No Call Registry' only applies to telemarketers, not debt collectors.

When it comes to references, family, neighbors, etc. a debt collector can only call them one time, unless they make arrangements to call again. The exception to this rule is if the collector feels the reference or family member is either outright lying to them or isn't revealing all they know. That falls at the discretion of the collector.

The collector can contact your place of work to confirm you work there. They can also ask to speak to you at work. However, if you tell them it is an inconvenience to you to be contacted at work, they must cease and desist immediately. The FDCPA states that a collector cannot call you "at any unusual time or place or a time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to the consumer."

The catch to that is you can provide a specific window of time when it is okay for the collector to contact you, but it has to be reasonable. In other words, you can tell a collector not to call you at work, but you also cannot tell a collector they can call you between 8:45 pm and 8:46 pm. You can also make arrangements for a collector to contact you at an hour outside of the 8 am/9 pm window.

Ultimately, the bulk of the responsibility in regards to phone conversations falls upon the collector, but understanding that you play a role in responding as you do owe a debt is important as well.

Forwarding Addresses

Per the first Confessions post, I had mentioned that you can ask the collector to verify the debt before agreeing to any sort of payment arrangement. This forces contact to collect money to cease, and requires the collector to mail the proof of debt to you.

However, there are reasonable requirements placed upon you regarding this as well. If the collector mails out proof of debt to an old address that you never updated, or if you purposely provided a false address - saying that you 'never received the proof' is not a valid defense. The collector simply has to show that they indeed mailed the proof (verifiable through the United States Postal Service) for contact to collect the debt to resume.

It is your responsibility to keep your address updated and to provide the correct mailing address when prompted. I've said before that tricking a debt collector into making a mistake is not the way to go, and unless you're absolutely read up on the collection laws specific to your state - don't try to be deceptive. Honesty remains the best policy.

Community Property vs. Common Law

The majority of states in the US are considered Common Law states, meaning that what you bring into the marriage (debt, assets, etc.) remains yours and yours alone throughout that marriage. Any equity you gain or any debt you incur, if your name and your name alone is associated with it, you are solely responsible for it.

This means that in these states, a debt collector cannot discuss your debt with your spouse unless you provide a verbal or written consent.

The remaining nine states are Community Property states. This means that any debt or asset you bring into a marriage becomes both yours and your spouse's responsibility. Therefore, in those states, a collector can legally speak with your spouse openly about the debt owed.

It doesn't matter what debt was accrued in what state, the residing state determines the type of relationship to debt. For instance if you were married in Michigan, a Common Law state, and acquired debt there, and now reside permanently in California, a Community Property state - a collector could speak to your spouse about the debt.

This is an often overlooked piece of information, and has led to multiple FDCPA violations as many people - both debt collectors and debtors - have no idea this concept even exists. Generally the Community Property vs. Common Law doesn't really get noticed until a married couple files for a divorce.

Internet Presence

Have you heard of SEO? It stands for Search Engine Optimization, and is a big deal to businesses.

Search Engine Optimization is the process of expanding visibility on a search engine site like Google or Bing using 'organic' or 'natural' methods. In simpler words, when you enter a search into Google, the first results on the first page of the search are sites that have high traffic (lots of people go to the site) or have effectively used the appropriate search terms (keywords) to bring the site higher in the results.

Your name (user name included) can have the same effect. A famous person is obviously likely to have more hits, but depending on what other websites you are on (which can also include what you do for a living) your name might rank higher, or a search of your name might bring me to a website with lots of your personal information.

The more you participate in social media, the stronger your online presence becomes as well. I have a habit of commenting on news stories, and generally either use my name or use the screen name. On occasion, I'll even use my Facebook profile to sign in. This isn't the brightest thing to do, because there's that possibility that a collector could trace that news story commentary back to my Facebook profile.

If you're looking for popularity and visibility, then you want a higher internet presence. But if you're going to default on your loan, that high internet presence could prove to be damning. However, there are a few things you can do to lower the number of hits on your name.

  1. Feel free to comment on news stories - just change up your user name, and don't 'sign in with Facebook', regardless of how convenient it may seem.
  2. Don't sign up for a lot of internet offers - sites that offer discount coupons are bound by certain laws preventing the release of all personal information, but often times, things like home addresses, email addresses, and occasionally phone numbers, can be sold or traded between companies. What you'll find is that company A trades or gives your information to company B - and both of those companies are owned by company C. So they didn't violate the law because they didn't release your personal information to outside sources - just the 32 different companies that company C owns.
  3. Check your security status on your social media sites - many sites will allow you to control who can see your information when they search for you. Adjust your security settings so that a basic name search will not pull up your Facebook account.

Should search engines be required to remove information deemed 'irrelevant' from their results?

See results

The Future of the Internet

While it's pretty much a guarantee that in our informational age, the internet will be around for many years to come, it's important to note some of the big changes that may be coming our way regarding the availability of information.

If you search your name, you might be surprised to find old social media accounts (like Myspace) or old addresses and phone numbers that you haven't been associated with for 10+ years. Think about it - when you run a search on Google, have you ever looked at the actual number of results found? For my name, it pulls about 1,300 hits. That's a lot, considering I'm no one famous.

The internet never forgets. There's this concept of a 'deep web' - all the information that has been put out on the internet since its creation. Vast amounts of data that are simply floating around through cables. Much of this 'deep web' is inaccessible, and becomes a 'graveyard' for information that has run its course. The data we find now is just the surface of this web, and some wonder how much is really necessary?

Just recently, Mario Costeja Gonzalez filed suit against Google Spain regarding an internet hit about his repossessed house that was auctioned off in 1998. He stated that because the situation had been resolved, it was no longer relevant or necessary for this information to be available via internet searches. The European Union's Court of Justice backed him, stating that people have what is called a 'right to be forgotten' and that Google must delete "inadequate, irrelevant, or no longer relevant" information from its results when someone requests it.

While this ruling only affects Europe for the moment, it brings up an interesting question - when does information become irrelevant, and when should it be removed? I don't want to get into an editorial about this, but it's an interesting concept to consider. Several sites (mostly those showing mug shots as a matter of public record) already offer the option to remove such information (some with a nominal fee) while others require a court order to take down the result.

It will be interesting to see what commentary, if any, the United States makes on the subject.

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