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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Debt Collectors Use Data Protection Act to Intimidate

There are indications that some debt collection companies, or debt collectors, are using the Data Protection Act to intimidate people who are least able to cope with the debt they already have.

Debt collectors, who nowadays hide under the cover of flashy websites, have hounded a friend of mine, who has had a lot of bad fortune recently. He has noticed the glee with which debt collectors use the so-called data collection questions to soften up their subjects. When asked where the caller was calling from, callers often refuse to say, and continue to press the subject into giving out their personal information.

The normal courtesies of introducing oneself and saying where they are from do not seem to matter to the new breed of debt collector, who have to meet targets like any other sales operative.

Most people don't know this, but debt collection agencies have very little in the way of powers, and the main tool they have is intimidation. They use human nature to empower themselves with weapons based on crude psychology. They thrive on people's guilt and always try to give themselves the moral high ground in any interactive situation like a telephone call. That is the only way they can get at people - through guilt and fear.

It is unfortunate that a law that was designed to protect people from unscrupulous practices is now being used by the very people who are most keen to use intimidating techniques.

Use of the Data Protection Act means that the person contacting you by telephone is allowed to "check" who you are by asking you various question. What is your name, your address, your date of birth, your mother's maiden name, etc.

This may be fine if the matter is simply to establish the true identity of a person. But a debt collector uses this for other purposes: it softens a person up. It makes the subject feel pliable to questioning, and therefore more easily susceptible to further questions and deeper probing which then leads to what are essentially sales tactics.

After putting the subject in this receptive frame of mind, the debt collector then follows up by questions to which the logical answer either has to be a Yes (to the debt collector's advantage) or a No (also to the debt collector's advantage). This technique is often used in hard sell ploys and has but one purpose: the sale. Used by the debt collector, the goal is not a sale, but the voluntary release of money that the prospect cannot afford. The techniques are exactly the same, however, and it is the Data Protection Act that puts the prospect in the frame. The Data Protection Act's very procedures allow the sale to proceed, smoothly.

The modern debt collection industry is based on greed. Debts are bought and sold by different debt collection agencies, and sometimes the "leads" are sold to other call centres around the world. The salesperson who phones you up is like any other salesperson. There are targets to meet and the salesperson - who is usually a very "pushy" type and has a very tight education in this activity at least - will use any tactic to achieve those targets.

The provisions of the Data Protection Act are a Godsend to such people. Whatever the legal requirements, or otherwise, of all those ostensibly necessary questions, the debt salesmen are loving it.

The response is both perfectly sensible and legal: if you sense a debt collector is on the phone treat him or her like any other salesperson. If you don't like what is being offered then politely say goodbye and put the phone down.

Then the salesperson will politely go away. Or, at least, they should.

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