It's a debt collector's job to be nasty. And lately, they've performing that task quite well.
Debt collectors have been adopting increasingly unpleasant tactics, according to a recent report from the market research firm Marketdata Enterprises. Collectors are said to be cursing, threatening and insulting the people they're trying to get money from. And in many cases, they're telling lies that violate the law.
The ramping up of negative tactics comes amid a climate of widespread hardship, when people are especially unwilling or unable to cough up cash on demand. Millions of Americans are out of work. Millions more aren't getting raises. And huge swaths of the country are getting by with no significant savings, instead living paycheck to paycheck.
Debt collectors have been becoming increasingly aggressive at a time when their revenues have been at a historic high. It's true that the industry saw its revenues fall in 2008 and 2009, when the economy cratered. But that was the first time that had happened in over a decade, according to Marketdata.
And in 2009, at the lowest point of that two-year plunge, debt collector revenues were still at $11.12 billion, Marketdata notes. That's over a billion dollars more than the industry took in at any time between 1993 and 2003.
The next year, in 2010, revenues were on their way back up, to $11.74 billion.
Still, even with their revenues on the rise, profits are down at many companies. The collection field has become more crowded lately, since consumer technology is now at a point where it's easy to run a debt-collection agency from your living room. And with so many Americans strapped for cash, collectors are often trying to squeeze blood from a stone.
That's part of the reason debt collectors have lately been so uncivil, with some companies making horrifying threats, like the firm that allegedly told a debtor they were going to dig up her dead daughter and hang her from a tree if she didn't pay her bills. Others go on an all-out harassment campaign, calling early in the morning and late at night, and reaching out to the relatives and former romantic partners of debtors to try and apply indirect pressure.
In some cases, collection agencies are said to be calling people who don't even owe any money. At least one company has been accused of lying to the people it calls, saying things like "you'll be arrested if you don't clear your debts" -- a tactic that happens to be against the law.