The “No Disclosure Without Consent” Rule: “No agency shall disclose any record which is contained in a system of records by any means of communication to any person, or to another agency, except pursuant to a written request by, or with the prior written consent of, the individual to whom the record pertains [subject to 12 exceptions].” 5 U.S.C. § 552a(b).
I believe this piece of legislation is currently a skip-tracer’s greatest nemesis in the marketplace today! When you consider that this law can be violated simply by perception (eg. a badly placed phone message, leaving a business card displaying the collection agent’s company name on a front door, interaction with neighbors or co-workers, etc.), then almost any action taken within the course of an investigation could possibly result in a disclosure issue.
Through my current career path, I am in contact with a variety of active collectors, skip-tracers, bounty hunters, and other types of skip-tracers who are currently encountering real-world situations applicable to the subject. Over the past few months I have heard some horror stories involving third-party disclosure, and I would like to share them with you in order to communicate some possible solutions that may help you avoid the slippery slope of third-party disclosure.
- One Housekeeper/ Two Big Ears: A Collector left a voicemail for a subject requesting a return call in reference to his loan. While the subject was out of town, his housekeeper overheard this message, and upon his return she confronted her employer. She feared her boss was in financial trouble, so she requested to be paid in advance for future visits. Due to this embarrassment, the subject threatened legal action and settled for an undisclosed amount.
- Solution: Leave only your name and number on a voice mail—nothing else.
- The Overexposed File: A recovery agent secured a delinquent subject’s collateral, and per the request of his client, he dropped the unit off at the client’s location. Regrettably, the consumer’s file was left in the unit with all the prior work (including notes that were never intended to be shared with the consumer) contained within the file. The unit was later redeemed for payments, with the relative of the subject picking up the unit, and subsequently finding the file replete with the subject’s name and the related confidential information in the vehicle. Once again, legal action was threatened.
- The Pre-emptive Solution: Maintain two files for the same subject: one for the inside office staff, documenting all work completed on the file, and another for the outside representatives, containing just the minimum necessary information in truncated format (encrypted Social Security Numbers, account numbers, and account balances.)
- Airborne Paperwork: A Recovery agent was in a serious auto accident in which the unit flipped several times, spilling all of the paperwork contained in the unit and scattering it over the highway. The agent was taken to a local hospital for treatment, but the emergency responders on the scene understandably failed to collect any of the scattered paperwork. The liability in this case was huge, yet fortunately for all concerned the agent was restored to full health, and no legal issue ever materialized.
- The solution here would be the same as above: a secondary, truncated file for the use of those in the field who may encounter highly unexpected situations.
In the past couple of weeks I have noticed a disturbing trend in the social media world, such as Facebook and Twitter: tracers are posting pictures of recovered collateral, apprehended fugitives, or Tweeting information about a certain subject who had been located after a lengthy hunt. Now I understand all too well the satisfaction of the VICTORY DANCE after locating a skip, but these actions are a direct violation of third-party disclosure, and should be stopped to avoid future litigation.
I hope these examples will help you with best practices for all your skip-tracing efforts. For more best practice info stay tuned to skipguru.com or check out my friends at http://www.riscus.com/ and http://www.rsig.com/index.html for your compliance needs. To make sure your skip-tracing efforts are in compliance you can also check out the Skip-Tracers National Certification Program!
Until Next time… Follow Me on the Path to Better Skip-Tracing
Be Blessed, Be Safe and Happy Hunting
Alex Price is a nationally-recognized expert on the Art of Skip Tracing and author of Skip Tracers National Certification Program with over 25+ years of experience in skip-tracing, collections and public speaking. Alex began his career with Barnett Bank as a field representative collecting past-due accounts. He then moved to World Omni Finance, where over the next ten years he worked in all aspects of collections and handling the nationwide charge-off skip portfolio.
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