March 4th, 2009

For Debt Collectors, the Dead Are a Healthy Bet


You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector

The banks need another bailout and countless homeowners cannot handle their mortgage payments, but one group is paying its bills: the dead.

Dozens of specially trained agents work on the third floor of DCM Services here, calling up the dear departed’s next of kin and kindly asking if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment.

The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.

Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.

Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding. Improved database technology is making it easier to discover when estates are opened in the country’s 3,000 probate courts, giving collectors an opportunity to file timely claims. But if there is no formal estate and thus nothing to file against, the human touch comes into play.

New hires at DCM train for three weeks in what the company calls “empathic active listening,” which mixes the comforting air of a funeral director with the nonjudgmental tones of a friend. The new employees learn to use such anger-deflecting phrases as “If I hear you correctly, you’d like...”

“You get to be the person who cares,” the training manager, Autumn Boomgaarden, told a class of four new hires.

For some relatives, paying is pragmatic. The law varies from state to state, but generally survivors are not required to pay a dead relative’s bills from their own assets. In theory, however, collection agencies could go after any property inherited from the deceased.

Finally, of course, some of those who pay a dead relative’s debts are unaware they may have no legal obligation.

Scott Weltman of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, a Cleveland law firm that performs deceased collections, says that if family members ask, “we definitely tell them” they have no legal obligation to pay. “But is it disclosed upfront — ‘Mr. Smith, you definitely don’t owe the money’? It’s not that blunt.”

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Sorry about that last post. I pasted in the excerpts and then realized that even those were too long, so I put them behind a cut tag.

I know some folks hate cut tags. Moreover, it seems remarkably awkward to have a cut to excerpts *and* a link to the full article. I'm not really satisfied with the result, particularly as a rather sharp observation on gender and conversation is now hidden behind the cut.


Edit: Aaargh. Actually, that observation is the second cut tag. What's now hidden is the hilarious conversation between the writer and Stefan Alfsson, an ex-trawler captain, ex-banker.
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Wanted: A Smart, Gregarious Octopus To...

The staff of Santa Monica’s Pier Aquarium was surprised early last week when they arrived at work to discover one of their residents had flooded the facility:
They blame the soaking they discovered Tuesday morning on the aquarium’s resident two-spotted octopus, a tiny female known for being curious and gregarious with visitors. The octopus apparently tugged on a valve and that allowed hundreds of gallons of water to overflow its tank.
Octopuses are curious, intelligent creatures that show evidence of short and long-term memory in maze and problem-solving experiments:
In laboratory experiments, octopuses can be readily trained to distinguish between different shapes and patterns. They have been reported to practice observational learning, although the validity of these findings is widely contested on a number of grounds. Octopuses have also been observed in what some have described as play: repeatedly releasing bottles or toys into a circular current in their aquariums and then catching them. Octopuses often break out of their aquariums and sometimes into others in search of food. They have even boarded fishing boats and opened holds to eat crabs.
In our desperate economic times, such intelligence, talent and drive cannot go wasted.

Why not train the Santa Monica octopus to run a major American bank?
bobisbankrupt goes on to make give some compelling reasons to put an octopus in charge of a bank.

I mean, could octopuses do worse than current management?

This image provided by Heal the Bay shows a two-spotted octopus, a tiny female known for being curious and gregarious with visitors, and believed to be responsible for causing a tank leak at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium on Tuesday Feb. 24, 2009 in Santa Monica, Calif.
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    amused amused
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Why is it that well-meaning people fail to understand when people have issues, even emotional landmines, about certain subjects, and still keep banging on about them.

Are they simply clueless? Do they not listen? Or is it that they say things so they can hear themselves talk? What?