New Technology Brings Back Old Dangers

police_sceneGuest Editorial

It’s a little before 3:00am, very quiet. A tow truck is idling up backwards into a driveway intending to repossess a Ford truck. Suddenly the lights in the house come on and a man runs outside. The repo driver, afraid for his life, drives away and leaves the Ford behind. 15 minutes later, another repo man backs up into the same driveway. This time the debtor is waiting on his porch with 30-30 telescopic rifle and he shoots the repossessor through the neck and both lungs, killing him.

This sad scene took place on Feb 24, 1994 in Houston Texas. Tommy Morris was the second repo man in this story and he left behind his wife and 4 children. The debtor who did the killing, Jerry Casey, Jr, was never arrested for his actions but ended up committing suicide 8 months later. The sad part is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the dealer who assigned out the repossession order did not engage in the dangerous and highly censured practice of “double assigning” accounts – assigning an account out for repossession to two or more repossession agents in the same geographical area at the same time.

Some 3 years after the shooting a Jury ruled that Steeplechase Motors was mostly liable for Morris’ death because of their policy of double assigning and advised a $2.3 million judgment against Steeplechase, of which the judge ultimately awarded the family $750,000.

I was in the field repossessing cars when this incident happened. I well remember the furor it created in the repossession industry and how the not completely uncommon practice of double assigning accounts stopped dead in the lending community because of it. But memories are short and today I am again seeing this dangerous activity coming back to life. And with today’s new LPR1 technology, I’m seeing another form of double assigning coming into existence.

Here’s an example of something that happened to us twice in one week. We received an email from DRN2 informing us that a car we had recently scanned in an apartment was put into the National database of skip accounts out for repo. In the DRN system when an account is added to the database, the last company who scanned the vehicle is notified by email that the unit is now out for repo and if the unit is still there and scanned again, it can be called in and the order assigned. We sent out a truck to scan and repo the car (if it was still there). As the driver was pulling into the apartment complex, he saw another company towing that vehicle out of the apartment – they had just repoed it minutes before. In checking up on what happen, it was found that this lender (forwarding company actually) sent the assignment to their local agent and on the same day put the account in the DRN system.

In checking into this situation further, I found that several lenders assign accounts to their local agents and put them into an LPR system for repo on the same day. I can see the lenders’ thinking on this – the more people you have out looking for the unit, the better the chances of getting it repoed. But this is exactly the same thinking behind the practice of double assigning that was occurring in the ’90s. It’s dangerous and it has the potential of causing another Tommy Morris type incident.

In contrast, I have a client who will assign us an account and if we haven’t found it in a week, they put it into the LPR system. But this isn’t the same situation because, if we haven’t found the debtor in a week, then he’s not at any of the addresses the client has given us and is a bona fide skip. This is exactly the type of account that LPR systems are great at resolving.

Repossessing cars is a dangerous profession. It takes a lot of skill, a lot of drive and a lot of daring to do it right. We count on our clients to understand this and help us keep our agents as safe as possible by telling us everything about an account when they assign it (such as if the debtor has threatened violence, if they have a known criminal record, if someone else has worked the account previously and what happened) and not to double assign the account. By working together with our clients we can successfully resolve accounts and prevent further tragedies like the Tommy Morris incident from occurring.


1. License Plate Recognition – Cameras that read and record license plates and their location

2. Digital Recognition Network – The LPR service company that we are affiliated with





Russ DeWitt

President,Capital Adjusters, Inc.

Past President, National Finance Adjusters


American Recovery Association

Recovery Specialist Insurance Group

California Assn of Licensed Repossessors

Certified Asset Recovery Specialist

Certified Recovery Agent

Send any comments to:

Phone: 512-5-836-8030 Fax: 512-836-5379 Website: PO Box 140111, Austin, TX 78714

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6 thoughts on “New Technology Brings Back Old Dangers

  1. Santander does this on almost all of their accounts…. We have knocked on doors several times to be told that another agent had already been there… We have been threaten and cussed out because an agent was there earlier…I have told forwarding companies that a debtor had pulled a gun and we were not going back for them to send the same account to another company and not telling them that the debtor was dangerous…

  2. Russ I appreciate your comments and would like to share thoughts on this issue. I need to disclose that I do own a LPR company and our approach to the technology is with the challenging charged off accounts versus the active collection accounts. While we know the active collection accounts part of the market is larger, it does present difficult issues such as the ones you discuss.

    We work with only charged off accounts from our lenders. Active collection accounts are more complicated in the fact that the addresses are better, agents are actively running the accounts and the delinquency is earlier in the process. All these variables contribute to a higher probability of issues with dual agents working accounts that have good addresses and are not necessarily “real skips” at that time in their aging.

    We have a real time repossession system that allows our agents to repossess a vehicle in real time which reduces the chances of another agent pulling up while they wait for confirmation to repossess and debtor’s confronting the agent.

    You talk about the “historical scan” part of this process also. When a lender sends us their new list of charged off accounts we bounce these off of our database and if we have a good historical scan I make contact with the lender to obtain the assignment on this account. This practice results in our agents receiving more assignments to repossess along with the fact they are authorized to pick up the vehicle on site versus riding around with the cameras without an assignment on that account. It also allows me to skip the account and zero in on a possible better address than the one we scanned previously. While the assigned account is probably still active on other LPR systems, as well as ours (we limit the number of agents who have our cameras in markets), we know our agents appreciate the fact our system is geared toward obtaining more assignments for them and we work as a team to locate the vehicle.

    This technology is another tool for our industry to utilize but does present challenges to all involved.

  3. Russ, although it is hearsay, I am hearing stories of accounts being double-assigned to different ALPR companies…and to a ALPR company and to repossessors at the same time.

    I have heard stories of repossessors pulling into a neighborhood to check an address, in time to see the target vehicle leaving the neighborhood on the hook of the ALPR company’s “vendor”.

    Things really are getting ridiculous at this point. Its like its a free-for-all, and only the one actually recovering the car is getting paid anything. Someone is going to get hurt as well.

  4. Russ,

    Thank you for sharing this well written article with us. Information like this serves to elevate our industry and inform clients on the dangers and hazards that improperly assigned repossessions may bring.

  5. Excellent article. I just sent information regarding double assignments to a lender that had instructed their recovery supervisor to begin this very dangerous process. I received an email from the supervisor who said she had used this information to dissuade her company from double assigning repossession accounts. The information on this lender was sent to me by Les McCook and I want to thank Les for helping to convince this lender of the increased risks associated with double assigning of repossession accounts. I would hope that lenders who double assign will read your article and realize the potential deadly results of such a dangerous practice.

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