Bentzen Financial has, for some time now, received reports from former annuitants that have done business with us that they feel they are being harassed by others in the industry. Once the liquidation of their structured settlements or annuities are approved, annuitants are immediately contacted to try and squeeze more business out of them – at least, with regards to factoring. Unfortunately this also occurs once an annuitant has put together a structured settlement. This is the scraping phenomenon that has overrun the entire industry. Due to the reports of harassment of our former clients, we felt it necessary to conduct a formal investigation. To that end, we have tasked an independent academic to conduct the investigation and produce a report of findings. Preliminary findings have been produced and already further serve to demonstrate the deleterious effect that scraping has on the industry.
The original focus of the investigation was specifically on harassing phone calls, but after speaking with many on (just!) the Bentzen Financial client list, it seems as though this was too limited in scope. Nearly every annuitant who has completed a testimonial reports the extraordinary degrees that several companies in the industry – several names come up constantly – have gone to try and secure their business. Representatives of these companies are frequently referred to as “sharks,” “vultures,” and “predators” of one kind or another. It is clear that the annuitants feel as though they are being further victimized by unscrupulous businesses with unethical practices, commonly asking why these solicitations don’t stop despite repeated confrontations and, in some cases, pleadings.
Many of these annuitants note that there tends to be a time lag between when they pick up the phone and when a person on the other line responds; this is typically indicative of the use of auto-dialing machines which are strictly regulated by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (1991). Calls to cell phones, for example, are strictly prohibited – and are frequently done anyway. More troublesome, however, is the fact that all affected annuitants report telling solicitors to stop calling – and none complied for the mandatory five (5) years as stipulated by the TCPA. Adding insult to injury, the solicitors often do not identify themselves or their organizations, preferring to rely upon salesman tricks and faux friendliness, with some even going so far as to state or imply that they work for Bentzen Financial. There are numerous reports of overreach, such as by relentlessly contacting spouses, children, and other relatives using whatever means possible. Unfortunately this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg; some reports include harassment by salesmen on Facebook, misleading sellers into believing they represent another company that may have a better working relationship with them, or even going to their homes and places of business seeking them and their families in person. The general consensus is that annuitants should not be contacted by anyone they have not sought out themselves. Even companies that have done business with annuitants in the past are often reported as carrying out harassment after initial business is concluded. This is how the industry’s reputation takes a hit: even those companies whom clients decided to deal with are engaging in actions that many annuitants feel as though are predatory.
A final and consistent complaint that annuitants report is that the sheer amount and frequency of direct mailings with “Gotcha!” checks being sent to them is overwhelming. While most annuitants know that these checks are essentially traps for companies to try and get more money out of them, some lack sufficient understanding of how the industry works and get caught up in what seems like a blessing of free money. There is no free money and there is no such thing as a free lunch. It is simply unacceptable that some annuitants, many of whom are struggling financially, are further victimized in this manner – be it due to their own ignorance or desperation.
The preliminary findings do not paint the industry in a positive light. Scraping, now associated with harassment, is dangerous to the industry and legitimate business. For the industry to survive and flourish it cannot continue such an unethical practice. The complete report is being put together. Its findings will be noted in a future post.