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DCA tracing activity - is it allowed?


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I have started this thread for two reasons

 

- I got told off for apparently hijacking someone elses thread

 

- I want to ensure everyone has accurate information about what is allowed legal and illegal so they know exactly where they stand.

 

IMO there is a lot of misinformation on this forum which I have helpfully tried to address but get nothing but criticism. Whether the contents of this thread favour the debtor or consumer is irrelevant to me - what matters is a clear position of the law is provided. Consumers reading such information can then be best informed about what course of action to take.

 

The simple answer is:

 

DCAs are allowed to phone up people you may know and ask them questions about you. However, they are limited in what they can say and ask.

 

The rule of law in this country is that you can (generally) do whatever you want unless there is a law that says you cannot. There is no law that says you cannot phone up strangers and ask them questions about other people.

 

DCAs have 2 limits placed on them by law. The first is the Data Protection Act (DPA) and the other if the OFTs Debt Collection Guidance (DCG). There may well be other bits of law but these are the 2 main ones to consider.

 

DPA - quite straight forward - they shouldn't release any personal data about a person without their permission - so this means they should not discuss financial information etc

 

DCG - the DCG doesn't have a specific section on tracing (although tracing is mentioned) - the DCG is more broad and basically prevents DCAs from doing things that would embarass the debtor - for exmaple, revealing there is a debt and asking people to pass on messages to the debtor.

 

The 2 pieces of law combined are the reasons tracing agents are very secretive if the person they call starts aksing questions. They shouldn't reveal they are looking for the person in realtion to a debt which obviously means they cannot say much at all.

 

They should give their company name - but there is nothing they can do if the call reciever does their own research on the internet and finds out the company is a DCA.

 

So, to sumamrise, tracing agents can call anyone - but they are restricted by what they can say or ask by the DPA and DCG.

 

--------------

 

2 points have been raised to suggest tracing is not allowed,

 

1) The OFT have told off a company about tracing so it is not allowed:

http://oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2009/58-09

 

Well all the OFT have told them off for is asking people to pass on messages. As mentioned in the DCG, this is now allowed. They have not tried to prevent them from tracing activity.

 

2) The OFT does not specifically condone tracing actvity.

 

Well they don't need to. Their main job is to tell companies what is NOT allowed, which they have done via the DCG. The DCG mentions tracing agents so quite clearly the OFT have accepted they exist and are happy for them to continue.

 

If tracing was not allwoed why would so many DCAs do it? Why would the CSA have a leaflet published on it? Whilst some people might think the OFT are inefficient, they are not so bad they they would allow something so blatant to contune - were it outlawed.

 

Be interested in any other views.

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Just by saying the call is in relation to a debt is disclosing personal information and is likely to cause, at the very least, embarrassment given the context of the call.

 

Also if DCA's operated in a proper, professional, manner and within the law then this site would be a great place to watch Internet tumbleweed go by ;)

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Yes - which is why some companies will be very secretive and will hardly say anything and why some companies use different names to their main business name.

 

A tracer should do little more than phone someone up and ask whether person X still lives Y address. They should give their company name but it can be done without disclosing the person owes money.

 

But as I say, there is nothing to stop the call reciever putting 2 and 2 together and working out why said company has phoned.

 

Its a bit of a flaw in the system.

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The relevant guidance would be the OFT Debt collection rules, which they have to comply with. They can make phone calls, provided it is purely to trace someone and is not either harassing or embarrassing to the person concerned. So they are not allowed to state the reason for the call or pass on messages. All they can say is " hello sorry to bother you, but I am trying to trace a Mr Ghost who we think lives at 1 The Street. Do you know whether he still lives there ? ". They would then not be able to say why they were trying to trace the person. If asked they would just say that it was a personal matter and have not been able to contact Mr Ghost. ( I don't think they should phone using a telephone number that can be looked up following 1471 enquiry. e.g they should phone with number withheld)

 

Then there is obviously the data protection act and laws regarding harassment. So they can't divulge information that is confidential and they can't act in a way that could be considered harassment.

 

In the other post you replied to, it appeared to me that the DCA/Tracing agent had acted incorrectly, as they had contacted many neighbours over a period. It seemed to go beyond, just trying to trace the person in question and appeared to be used to try to get them to make contact. This was the impression that the OP had given.

 

I actually had experience of a DCA phoning a neighbour, trying to trace a relative who had never lived at my address. The neighbour lived about 20 houses down the road, so I did not know them. I don't know how many other calls they had made. I actually phoned the DCA in question and made a complaint. They said it was common practice for tracing agents to make these phone calls and they acting within the relevant rules. The OFT confirmed it was ok, provided they kept to the debt collection guidelines. Personally I was not happy, because I had written to the DCA on many occasions prior to them doing this, saying that my relative did not reside at my address. I was therefore being considered a liar, but I guess debt collectors must believe that people they are contact with are prone to telling lies.

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Withholding of numbers would probably cause more annoyance - especially to those that are recieving calls and have no idea why and who is calling them

 

In the other thread, someone was implying that trace activity by phoning neighbours was not allowed at all, hence this post.

 

The issue of calling the same neighbours multiple times is a seperate one - though I a not sure an offence exists anywhere off the top of my head.

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Withholding of numbers would probably cause more annoyance - especially to those that are recieving calls and have no idea why and who is calling them

 

In the other thread, someone was implying that trace activity by phoning neighbours was not allowed at all, hence this post.

 

The issue of calling the same neighbours multiple times is a seperate one - though I a not sure an offence exists anywhere off the top of my head.

 

As with all issues, the argument is about whether the conduct is against the OFT debt collection rules or not. It would be up to the OFT to decide on this, so pretty pointless debating it on here.

 

If people are unhappy about the conduct of a DCA or their tracing agents, then they should make a complaint to the OFT.

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Its a bit of a flaw in the system.

 

You can absolutely GUARANTEE that if there is a flaw in the system which allows these ****holes to exploit it and embarrass a debtor into contacting them, they will make the most of it. That is why it vital that these people are only dealt with in writing.

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Well, my post was really just to highlight the facts as some people were implying tracing of any form was not allowed. I think I have addressed that point.

 

I am surprised the OFT haven't tried to ban tracing. Though I am not sure they have the remit to do so without primary legislation being made.

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Thank you for starting this thread about an important subject.

 

As well as the OFT's 2009 press release that I posted elsewhere, the OFT has also raised concerns about DCA tracing activity. For example, see this document about DCA's letters, with specific mention of tracing. This piece of guidance was drawn up in conjunction with the CSA. DCA members sign up to the CSA Code of Practice; risible as it may be, CPUTR makes it an offence for a business to fail to comply with a code to which it has subscribed.

 

The CSA has produced its own guidance on tracing, about which it says:

 

Whilst there may be some debtors that reasonably 'forget' to advise their creditors of a relocation or change in circumstance, the vast majority of absconded debtors have done so with the intention of deliberately attempting to evade their financial responsibilities. This leaves behind a trail of devastation, especially to those innocent individuals who either move into a property formerly owned or rented by an absconder, or whose details have been used fraudulently to obtain credit.

 

Instances of 'mis-trace' have received media attention of late, and in true 'Watchdog' fashion, the attention has not been good! However, despite what these 'entertainment' programmes may tell us, the days of "blagging" information out of poor unsuspecting individuals is rapidly disappearing, and the Association is looking to stamp it out altogether with its Trace Guidelines.

 

The guidance is aimed to develop and improve practices within the trace industry and increase awareness as to the importance of this particular area of the Credit Servicing Industry. The Guidance details what is required of a tracing agent when carrying out their legitimate tracing activity to locate a subject and includes information on why a trace is needed, how tracing is governed and the different methods of tracing.

 

Focusing heavily on the Data Protection Act 1998, the guidance explains how personal data can be sourced, using that personal information lawfully and keeping records accurate.

 

And, whilst the Office of Fair Trading do not regulate tracing activity, when tracing for the purposes of debt collection, the OFT Debt Collection Guidance should be considered, and the Trace Guidance details the specific areas within the OFT's Guidance that is of relevance.

 

Annoyingly, the actual guidance is on a members only part of their site.

 

In relation to telephoning neighbours, probably the most usual method used is for the DCA drone to pretend to be an old friend or colleague of the debtor. This is clearly proscribed in the OFT Guidance - communicating in a misleading manner. I have yet to hear of a single instance where a DCA has telephoned and simply said 'Can you tell me if X lives at Y?"

 

Despite the OFT/CSA guidance, some companies continue to try to mislead.

 

I have examples of one company claiming to have obtained confirmation of residence from a utility company (the debt was not for a utility and for the utility company to have passed on the details would be in breach of the DPA). How did I know it was fake? Easy - the debtor lived in single military accommodation - overseas. It was clearly a template letter.

 

My best personal example was when I was in Northern Ireland, and used an official spoof address for security. A DCA wrote to tell me that their 'operatives' had visited and not only confirmed that I lived there, but had also made a note of times when I was at home. Quite how they'd done this when the building doesn't exist they could not subsequently explain.

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But when a dca calls and pretends to be a tracing agent, then when challenged refuses to identify the fictitious tracing agent, what is a debtor meant to think, hands up IND, or better still admit you lied to me, or at least have the decency to reply to my letter - hypocrites

PGH7447

 

 

Getting There Slowly

---------

 

Advice is given freely but is in no way meant to be taken as Gospel:-)

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Hi

 

We must also not forget the process leading up to that Tracing Activity.

 

* Most of the DCAs state they have this super, wonderful, amazing Tracing Technology - If it is that amazing why are they contacting the incorrect people or is it a ploy to get business.

 

* Before the Tracing Activity can commence they as per OFT Debt Collection Guidance are meant to check the accuracy of data whether given to them by the supposed client or if debt bought the file. Do they actually do this data accuracy check IMO NO it is easier to open a file and oh look theres a phone number and address without checking its accuracy and just contact by either phone or letter. Even better when they get caught out its the classic never there fault its always a supposed client.

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I personally believe that the OFT guidelines introduced in relation to tracing have made more problems for the potential debtor and they, as a result of these guidelines, are now more likely to suffer embarassment.

 

I worked for Wescot, in the trace department, for a number of years. Intially when we contacted neighbours we tried to give the impression that we were a friend that had simply lost touch with their neighbour. Though we were always careful to never say this directly. So at best the neighbour thought we were just an old friend and at worst they thought we were attempting some sort of [problem]. Very rarely did they put the pieces together and cry "debt mob."

 

However OFT guidlines soon changed all this as we were instucted to be completely transparent in our business. So if asked where we were calling from we had to say Wescot, whereas in the past we would simply have said Glasgow. We started using the trading name 2F so neighbours would not immediatley realise it was concerning debt. When asked what 2F did we would attempt to be vague, saying we did various things. For example business solutions. However the OFT said we could not say this as 2F was not a company and we had to say it was a trading name of the company Wescot. Practically everybody knows of Wescot so neighbours would immediatley assume debt was involved. We then had to say although Wescot was primarily a debt recovery agency it did not follow that we were looking for their neighbour with regards to them owning monies. However in most cases the damage was already done.

 

I feel its worth pointing out here, and this is a comment on your fellow man, that i definitely obtained more information from neighbours once they realised that debt was involved and not friendship. Its amazing how many people wanted to stick their neighbours right in it. Perhaps out of spite or jealousy. Definitely not through fear though.

 

Obviously tracing is a legal activity as the customer has signed the Consumer credit Act of 1974. Though it is highly improper to try and obtained information through deception or false representation. This practice was commonplace in the industry until call recording was brought in as standard.

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[quote=hmrc;3730062

Obviously tracing is a legal activity as the customer has signed the Consumer credit Act of 1974. Though it is highly improper to try and obtained information through deception or false representation. This practice was commonplace in the industry until call recording was brought in as standard.

 

What, as in giving the impression that the caller is a friend who's lost touch?

 

It seems to me that telephoning a neighbour and deceiving them into thinking that the tracer is a friend of the person the DCA is trying to trace falls foul of the OFT Guidance, as does telling the neighbour that the caller is calling from a DCA, since this is likely to be publicly embarrassing.

 

I would be interested to know whether, calling upon your Westcot experience, DCAs pay commission or bonuses to staff for successful traces. I am convinced that much of the bad practice amongst DCA staff stems from the way they are paid.

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