Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
Last week, I received an invoice from American Express. When I closely examined the correspondence, it became apparent that it was an offer to settle.
Puzzled, I called the phone number listed. A heavily accented voice that suggested India or Pakistan told me that American Express was making me a “one time offer.” They would accept $483 to satisfy the alleged $1,239 owed.
Craning the depths of memory, I recalled a different Jeff Willis who evidently was delinquent on an American Express card. It had been resolved then, in 2009. Yet here, 13 years later, it continued to surface.
When I relayed these findings to the gentleman on the phone, he began asking the normal questions: “Birthday, last four numbers of my social, home address…”
I stopped him, realizing that I might be witnessing a “phishing” scam. Instead, I reminded him that “no revolving debt is collectible in Kentucky after five years and no derogatory, outside of a bankruptcy may be reported to the credit bureaus after 84 months.”
His retort was that I only needed to pay $483 and they would accept a 12-month payment plan. I told him to stop harassing me and hung up.
Unfortunately, there are many conscientious Americans, especially older Americans who aren’t aware of debt recovery statute of limitations guidelines. These people zealously guard their bureaus, making them an easy target for aggressive collection specialists.
Also true is the fact that if one payment is made, the clock immediately resets. In essence, the creditor may resume reporting to the repositories for another seven years. In making even a token payment, they acknowledge that the debt is indeed theirs. Trained debt recovery specialists know this.
Unbeknownst to many Americans are schemes and scams globally involving a collection of old debt. Debt recovery companies can afford to pursue these debts. Old debts can be purchased for “pennies” on the dollar. The offshore help used to expedite is cheap.
Worse still, by sharing Americans’ personal information, they expose them to identity theft, the world’s fastest growing crime.
There are those who will say, “That’s just the way it is. The whole system is rigged to screw everyday Americans and there is nothing that we can do about it.”
Or is there?
I recall a conversation with Kevin Wysoki, then an aide to Kentucky 6th District Congressman Andy Barr. The question posed, “did Congressman Barr have any ideas regarding a long overdue clean-up of the Debt Recovery industry?” Barr sat on the House Financial Services Committee at the time of the conversation.
Wysoki asked, “What do you have in mind?” I went down a list of corrective measures that included, but was not limited to, “precluding from offshore outsourcing ANY JOB that required use of ALL OR PART of an Americans’ social security number.”
Sounds plausible. In fact, I haven’t talked to a single person who didn’t think that it was a “brilliant” idea! Yet, some opposed. Who are they and why would they be opposed?
The answer: Fortune 500 companies. Such action would reduce their profit margins.
AT&T, one of the greatest perpetrators, would explain that “rates would need to be increased” because of the high labor costs in America. They would claim that their union would not allow it.
I asked Wysoki, “could not AT&T consider placing these mostly call center jobs in right-to-work states?”
“Maybe,” the aide countered. “But AT&T would still say they’d be required to pay state minimum wage. They’ll say that nobody would want those jobs!”
There is a low-cost labor market that isn’t being fully utilized. They are older workers, ages 62-66, currently eligible for early social security. It isn’t generally enough to live on. However, an additional $19,000 per year IS allowed without compromising their entitlement.
Suddenly, a minimum wage job in a call center becomes appealing. Especially, in an attractive retirement community such as Fort Pierce, Florida or Hot Springs, Arkansas. Better yet, a full-time worker would become eligible for AT&T’s very good medical, dental and optical plan. Without compromising his or her entitlement!
Fortune 500 co0mpanies would argue that their offshore help will work for much less, often $200-$300 per month, with no benefits. This math would effectively “quintuple” their labor costs.
Has anyone dealt with this “help?” I have! Conducting business takes three to four times longer, because the offshore party is speaking in a second language and has difficulty understanding, or being understood, by the American.
Thus, the “labor bargain” isn’t really that big of a bargain. Or at least not for the American who is forced to waste time to accommodate the international service provider.
Then comes the “vetting,” or lack thereof. Intense background checks are a must in America for Fortune 500 companies. Things are a bit more relaxed for overseas help.
The end result is an open door to “phishermen” and scammers. This IS the Dark Side of America. The privacy of our people is being compromised for “a buck!”
Is there an end in sight?
It won’t be easy! Politicians are reluctant to take on these big companies. Not to mention oligarchs such as the Michael Bloombergs, Warren Buffets or Tom Steyers! Billionaires would see such a preclusion as a serious hit to their bottom lines. Congressmen don’t welcome the prospect of being targeted by them.
Most people now fully understand what Donald Trump meant when he called our system “rigged.” A mistake by a credit bureau can result in a lower credit score, which subsequently translates to a borrower paying a higher interest rate for money borrowed. Companies such as AT&T and their companion Direct TV bill in advance. There are mountains of “nickel and dime” fees. The chances of credit reporting mistakes are exponential!
Are there remedies that could be employed? Yes. It is called a “boycott.”
A nationwide boycott of companies utilizing offshore help that “required use of all or part of a social” would gain immediate traction. In fact, the mere threat might force these companies to rethink the practice entirely.
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