We interviewed Anton Vogel, collections agent turned Beyond Finance employee, to better understand what’s really behind those scary creditor calls, letters, texts, and emails …
Who did you work for as a collections agent?
I did collections for three different companies over the span of about 6 years. The first place was a third party agency that bought debts from creditors, the second was a law office that a lot of big name creditors hired to pressure debtors into paying, and the third was a credit union.
What kind of tactics did you use to get folks to pay?
Well, it’s kind of psychological warfare, right? At its heart, creditor intimidation is about trying to create as much overwhelming pressure as you can to get people to pay. So we’d come at them from all angles — like, the little old lady from next door would be walking up the street with a note for you from someone named Anton. When you got home from work, the boss would call you and go, “Hey, I got a message from this guy to give him a call.” Then your mother-in-law would call: “Hey, this guy called. His name’s Anton. He wants you to call him.” We couldn’t legally disclose the debt to other people, but we could do this. And it worked a lot.
Well, it’s kind of psychological warfare …”
Were there any other psychological strategies you used?
There was the vague, uncertain threat which tends to be far more terrifying than anything concrete: “This isn’t going to end well if you don’t pay. You’re running out of time before we have to figure out how we’re going to collect …”
And then when folks entered a program like Beyond Finance, we’d instill this doubt about the entire idea of debt settlement: “I don’t know what you think you’re doing with that consolidation stuff, but that was a big mistake. We’ve never heard of them — they haven’t contacted us. They’re taking your money every month? Where’s it going?”
And believe it or not, empathy is a huge part of creditor intimidation. We’d position ourselves as their “friend.” You get people to open up and tell you about their hardships and why they fell behind on payments, and then you play on those things: “You seem like a great guy, and I’m here to help. We can make it right. You can fix your credit. This is salvageable and we know you want to pay this.” It’s psychological warfare just the same, but in a nice way. Again, pretty grimy, but effective.
It’s a business to them, it’s not personal.”
What sort of changes have you seen in the collections industry?
Towards the end of my time as a collections agent, they were starting to move toward the automated dialer system — software that could dial 10,000 numbers an hour, which if you pick up, there’s a delay and then you get connected to someone across seas. And that’s pretty standard now.
As far as I understand it, banks no longer have offices full of debt collectors. Emails, letters, and texts are system-generated on a timer. The computer just changes their name and account number and there’s nothing unique to each person when it comes to these creditor intimidation communications. Everyone in the system gets them. But they send them every day and they script them to be as inflammatory as possible without violating guidelines, and it wears on clients just the same as if an actual person was sending them.
What would you want our clients to know about this type of creditor intimidation?
I already know what the creditors are going to tell you: “We haven’t heard from Beyond Finance… We don’t work with them,” all this nonsense. I know, because it’s the same thing that I used to say!
There are ways to block these calls. After putting Beyond Finance’s contact information in your phone, a lot of clients specifically elect to silence unknown numbers and screen creditor intimidation out that way. And eventually the calls should die down.
In my experience, creditors have a very narrow window of opportunity to try to convince you to keep paying them interest before they decide to drop half the debt. Of course, in the beginning they’re going to try, right? It’s a business to them, it’s not personal. There’s no one in a back room looking at your file going, “Oh, Sharon’s not paying! Shame on her!” All you are is an interest rate on a spreadsheet to them. And as long as you’re willing to continue to keep paying minimums and feed that never-ending conveyor belt of interest, of course, they’re willing to take it.
How does it feel to be working for Beyond Finance now?
I’ve been here for seven years and I love talking to my clients and getting to know them. Instead of helping creditors collect more money, I get to help people escape their debt, and that’s really rewarding.