From Collector: Phone Support
It doesn’t happen often, but when consumers threaten to harm themselves or one of your employees, a rehearsed plan of action is invaluable.
5/7/2019 10:00 AM
The business of helping consumers resolve their outstanding debts is complex and delicate. Often burdened with financial worries, job instability and other extenuating circumstances, consumers can be stressed, sad, exasperated and angry all in the course of a five-minute call. Occasionally, these calls can take an even darker turn.
When consumers threaten to hurt themselves or the collector, how should your agent respond and what next steps should your company take? Here are a few ideas to help guide you through these rare—but very serious—situations, reported by Collector magazine Managing Editor Anne Rosso May in the May issue.
Take the Burden Off the Collector
Sometimes consumers will make threats in order to get the agent to do what they want, like forgive the debt completely or accept a nominal payment sum. When any allusion to violence pops up during a collection call, it can be extremely frightening.
In these situations, the caller may not be serious about hurting anyone, but don’t rely on your collectors to discern between a credible threat and someone who is “just blowing off steam.” Any threat of violence should be treated seriously, and employees should know your company’s policy on how to respond.
At Account Recovery Specialists Inc., collectors aren’t allowed to editorialize about a threat in the account notes.
“They can’t speculate about it or say, ‘I don’t think he was serious,’” said Irene Hoheusle, vice president of collections and education.
When an ARSI collector hears a threat of any kind on the phone—either to the
consumer or the agency representative—company policy dictates that the agent is to immediately forward the account to senior management. If the manager doesn’t respond within 10 minutes, the agent must call the manager directly.
Escalate the Call as Needed
Once a call is flagged, a manager or human resources representative should listen to the recording to determine the next step your agency should take. If the consumer threatens your agent, call the police and make a report immediately.
“If it sounds like there is imminent danger to the consumer or to us, we’ll call the authorities and let them know what’s going on,” Hoheusle said. “If the consumer is threatening to hurt themselves, we’ll ask the authorities to do a welfare check. If it’s a threat to us, we’ll tell them we’ve received it and who the consumer is, and they’ll usually go and check it out.”
Hoheusle advises calling the authorities in the consumer’s location (with threats of self-harm) or in your office’s location (with threats of violence against your agency).
By calling 911 to help endangered consumers, are you opening yourself up to a third-party disclosure claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act? While there doesn’t appear to be case law on this, it stands to reason that you’d only expose yourself to liability if you reference the debt.
Be Prepared for the Consumer to Respond
If you do feel the situation requires police intervention, be aware that the consumer may call you back after getting a visit from the authorities.
“I’ve only had to call the authorities a handful of times after a consumer has threatened themselves,” Hoheusle said, “but when I have the consumer often will call me back, sometimes that same day, and demand to know why I called the police. I tell them: ‘Because I care. I don’t want you to hurt yourself and you worried us.’”
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