Keeping compliant with laws and regulations in debt collection is an in-depth process. One which becomes more difficult when scammers are actively trying to disrupt your debt collection practices.
Last month the California Association of Collectors hosted a webinar with panelists David Kaminski, Partner at Carlson & Messer, LLP, Kelly Parsons-O’Brien, President of Pacific Credit Services, and Mike Cheek, Vice President of Collections and Compliance at California Business Bureau, Inc. The main topic they discussed was call baiting and how to prevent it.
However, sometimes encountering a call baiter is unavoidable. Here’s what the panel of debt collection experts had to say about spotting and responding to call baiting.
Call Baiting Tells
Often, you can spot a call baiter by how they act and what they say during a call. What are some of the signs of call baiting collection agencies should look for?
When the caller asks, "Are you recording me?"
Questions on the subject of call recording indicate the consumer is trying catch your debt collector in a violation. Federal and state call recording laws differ, which may work in the caller’s favor. In some states, two-party consent is required and failure to disclose call recording can come with hefty penalties.
When Your Debt Collector Hears Someone Speaking in the Background
This can indicate a lawyer or other party is giving directions on how to bait an agent during a call.
Using a Speakerphone
This can sometimes indicate the phone call is being listened to by another party. This alone may not always mean the debtor is call baiting. But it can indicate the caller asked another person to listen in and give cues. Certain states have laws that prohibit call monitoring without disclosing that the call is being monitored by another.
Talks Like Reading a Script
If the caller sounds like they are reading from a script, they may be a call baiter. It is common for some scammers to pick specific language that may trick debt collectors.
Familiar with Laws
If a caller has a deep understanding of laws and debt collection practices, take note. This means the debtor has researched violations or have spoken to a lawyer. They are unusually informed on what to look for during the collection process.
Tries to Start a Fight
A call baiter might attempt to push an agent into an argument. They may be interested in claiming they are victims of harassment or abuse from your agency. Heated tempers can also cause an agent to slip up and violate a law or regulation.
Mentions They are Being Represented or May be filing for Bankruptcy
If a caller mentions they are being represented by an attorney, or they have filed for bankruptcy, pay attention. They may be hoping the agency attempts to collect the debt anyway, triggering a potential violation.
Common Baiting Questions
There are many scenarios in which a call baiter may try to cause an agency to violate laws or regulations. Here are some of the most common ways call baiters will attempt to prompt a violation.
Through the FDCPA or UDAAP
Call baiters are often looking for a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
In rare cases, a baiter may try to prompt the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or Federal Trade Commission to deem the violations as unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts and practices (UDAAPs).
As mentioned above, baiters may call after seeking attorney representation. This is not only a tell, it is the violation scenario they are trying to provoke. Keep in mind that if the debtor reaches out, you are still in danger of being charged for a violation. Some baiters will contact collectors after seeking representation in hopes of tricking them into improper conduct.
Call baiters may attempt to prevent disclosures or cause overshadowing through interrupting. Disrupting the flow of the debt collector’s disclosures may cause one to be overlooked.
Credit Reporting Impact
A popular scenario for a call baiter is to ask how their debt will impact their credit. For instance, a baiter may ask during the 30-day validation period whether the debt will be reported to the credit bureaus.
Withdrawing consent can be a tricky scenario to deal with. Some call baiters are purposefully ambiguous with how they revoke consent. Your agent might not understand the revocation. Failing to note consent has been revoked will trigger a violation as soon as the consumer is contacted again.
The first line of defense against call baiting is treating debtors with respect. Train all of your collectors to be as polite as possible with all callers. Kindness during debt collection is a good way to cut down on baiting issues. Many people avoid being rude to those who treat them well. What are some other debt collection practices that can protect you from call baiting?
Document Callers Reaching Out Despite Attorney Representation
Create a policy for dealing with debtors who are represented by an attorney. Ensure your collection agents take detailed notes on their calls, especially those who mention representation. If a caller is still working with a lawyer, ask them for the contact information and end the conversation. Whenever possible, it is best to get written permission directly from the attorney before having any more contact with a debtor. If permission can’t be obtained, “flag the account as one to be handled by a supervisor,” says Kaminski.
If You Don't Know the Answer, DO NOT Answer
Giving an incorrect answer is not a good policy in customer service. But, in the debt collection scenario, it can cause your company to be sued. Train your debt collectors. If they are not sure of how to answer a question, they shouldn’t give one. Many baits can be defused with an effective debt collection script that provides a roadmap for the conversation.
Reroute the Conversation
If the debtor is baiting, they may try to steer the items discussed with the agent. Be mindful of this tactic and be prepared to bring the conversation back to appropriate topics.
Transfer to Supervisor
Teach all your debt collectors that there is no shame in transferring a call to their supervisor. Make this practice part of your policies and procedures for suspected call baiters. Also train supervisors with the effective debt collection scripts that address how to respond.
Document the Call in Detail
Be sure suspicious calls have been documented in detail. Leave extensive notes so others who interact with the caller are prepared for future interactions.
Politely End the Call
Remember to maintain your collection communications etiquette and remain calm during a call bait. But if all else fails, politely hang up. If you can’t see a way forward with the debtor, tell them politely that you must disconnect the call.
In the end, Parsons-O’Brien suggests that call baiters be ruled out as quickly as possible. Her advice? “Ask yourself: Is this one account really worth it?” Consider whether you really need to collect on a problem debtor’s account. If your greatest concern is protecting your agency, the answer is no.
For a debt collection script of responses to common call baiting questions, download our guide.