Previous posts have gone in-depth into the means that some companies use to go after annuitants, but scant attention has been paid to what the annuitants themselves have to say.  As you can imagine, few have many nice things to contribute given the lengths that are taken to try and extract money out of them.  They generally feel angry, bitter, and helpless.

Frequently, annuitants who have provided testimonials ask: “Why don’t they stop contacting me?” especially since every single one of them has demanded contact stop.  Some know that the harassment is illegal and approach it in this way: “Why do they break the law?” they ask; just for potential profit?  “Do they not know what we/I have gone through?”  Others aren’t aware of the illegality of it, but still get the feeling that something’s wrong.  They know they shouldn’t feel harassed and want contact to cease – they just aren’t aware of how to do it or why it started to begin with.  We in the industry do know why; we know it simply comes down to money, and we know it started because they aren’t perceived as victims who are being further victimized by constant and unwanted contact, but clients who contribute to the bottom line.  In other words, these people have been reduced to profit margins.  But why does this matter?  Businesses must turn a profit – and of course, no one disagrees with this, not even the annuitants.  One annuitant who provided a testimonial, a salesman himself, commented (at length) that the tactics are – using a creative use of expletives – ultimately amateurish.  He dealt with the harassment by threatening, consistently, to sue the offending companies.  Thankfully, he was left alone after resorting to this tactic, though it is unfortunate that he had to resort to it in the first place.  Anyone who must resort to illegitimate means for their profits clearly isn’t secure enough in their legitimate business to play fair.

Listed below are a variety select quotes from annuitants that raise important issues in and of themselves.  Beyond the singular quote listed, please note that these experiences are far from unique.  Nearly all of the annuitants that spoke echoed similar feelings.

  • “We’ve gotten to the point, if a woman says ‘no’ it means ‘no.’  When a customer means ‘no’, it means ‘no.’  I keep saying ‘no’, so it means ‘no.’  These companies should lay off.  I shouldn’t have to defend himself after I say no.  I shouldn’t be constantly harassed.”
  • “It’s like they don’t even do their research; they just keep calling and calling and won’t leave you alone.  There’s not even any money left!  They just don’t let up, even when there’s nothing left.”
  • “Basically, once I’ve asked these people to stop calling… it should be something that’s honored.  They shouldn’t keep calling.  But they don’t.  Thirty days roll around, oftentimes, and the same people call.  It should stop the moment I say I doesn’t want the phone calls and services.  Checks in the mail could really hurt me if I didn’t shred all the checks I gets per day.  This is already hard because I’m disabled.  I doesn’t see why this should be public knowledge…”
  • “It’s very annoying.  It’s very frustrating to get these calls ALL THE TIME.  I’ve also got a cell phone, and they suck up my minutes constantly.   I just ignores Florida calls now.”
  • “If [Congress] can pass a law to keep this from happening, this is great.  It shouldn’t be public record to begin with.  This is a private matter and companies shouldn’t keep calling; they should respect that if you didn’t choose their company they should bow out gracefully.”
  • “It’s a case of privacy… and it’s completely stolen.  They know everything.  They know the financial records.  It’s wrong.  I’m constantly harassed and they think it’s their right to come and get my money from me.  They just don’t take no for an answer.”

These stories go on and on, but for sake of brevity, we’ll cut them off there.  There are a few other stories that aren’t quotable due to the highly emotional – and therefore somewhat difficult to transcribe – nature of the conversations, but here are summaries of two:

An annuitant’s father, the primary caregiver for an otherwise troubled son, and the annuitant’s sister, both receive contact on the annuitant’s behalf.  On two occasions this went above and beyond the typical means.  For the father, an entire packet of information was taped to the front door of his home when he wouldn’t answer the door.  For the sister, a medical professional, a representative went to her place of business to get a hold of her, and through her, the annuitant.  The family’s response to this unwanted contact was unanimous dismay and disbelief; they didn’t anticipate that level of harassment.

Another annuitant, partially disabled in mind and body as a result of the incident which resulted in her structured settlement, receives calls around each meal of the day.  Answering every phone call is difficult due to her disabilities, and having to go and answer the phone so frequently, dreading that it may just be another unwanted call, is overwhelming.  It’s a constant stress and source of anxiety which negatively affects her more than the average person as a result of the existing neurological disabilities.  Each phone call and subsequent argument to stop causes stress that she not only shouldn’t have to deal with, but can’t.  She, like so many others, desperately try to screen calls to try and prevent the endless stream of contact.  There is no good reason why this annuitant, her family, or any others should have to be subjected to this torment.

So what can we, as an industry, do about it?  What should we do about it?  This will be examined in detail in the next post.

As noted in our preliminary findings report, the original intent of the investigation was purely to look into harassing phone calls; it was too limited in scope and therefore the investigation was adjusted appropriately.  Annuitants’ testimonials are clear: they believe they are being ruthlessly and systematically being targeted for someone else’s profit.  But how are these people being reached?  What makes contact harassment?  Let’s explore this in more depth.  All clients and companies exposed by these clients have been made anonymous for these posts.

The standard and most frequent forms of contact are direct mailings and phone calls.  For many, though not all, direct mailings are the most annoying simply due to the volume of mail received on a weekly basis; for those annuitants who have only just left the courtrooms the mailings are on a daily basis for months on end.  These mailings are the “Gotcha!” checks that look and are occasionally perceived as free money.  We in the industry know this isn’t the case, and our company has taken steps to warn annuitants to be careful with these mailings – but as previously mentioned, some annuitants don’t understand this.  Some, either due to misunderstanding the mail or out of sheer desperation, will cash these checks.  The results for these people are disastrous; not just in terms of getting money or expecting to receive more afterwards – even when they don’t end up getting any at all – but psychologically.  We work in the industry and understand all of the jargon; many of these annuitants – these people – don’t.  The mailings, despite being effective sales tools, are too much for many annuitants.  Beyond the harmful effects for those who end up cashing in the checks they’re getting in the mail, from a practical standpoint they are largely ineffective.  Nearly all testimonials from clients note that whenever they see mail that seems like it might be about a structured settlement or annuity, they simply make a bee-line for the garbage can and toss it in.  It seems about as effective as the political mailings we are all being inundated with during the mid-term election season.

Phone calls are troublesome territory for annuitants.  For many, they take the appropriate approach to unwanted solicitations and request to be removed from the calling list for the respective company.  At this point, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is clear that the person shouldn’t be contacted again for at least a period of five years.  Do the phone calls stop?  For the vast majority of the time, absolutely not.  Testimonials frequently cite that despite repeatedly telling companies to stop calling, they do anyway.  The salesman might change, but the companies don’t.  This is textbook corporate harassment.  If this wasn’t troublesome enough, clients have gone on at length regarding the kinds of tactics employed by these various representatives.  This ranges from a typical sales pitch of feigned familiarity and friendliness to shouting that they’re being ripped off and should do business with them.  For the friendlier pitch, one client testified that she repeatedly received a call from a man at company X.  He was told not to call back and respected this for about a month.  The next month he called and claimed that when they had spoken the month prior he was given an indication that she may be interested in their company’s services.  She explained that this wasn’t the case and to stop calling, that she wasn’t interested in selling her annuity to them.  Calls of this type occurred once a month for several months until the representative finally stopped.  Despite the friendliness of these solicitations, it must be remembered that it is still harassment since she repeatedly told this person, and the company he represented, that contact was not desired.  Beyond the legality of the situation, it is simply unethical and has effects beyond the immediate offender.  If our industry continues with these practices then it is our entire industry that will ultimately suffer, and it begins with those that continue to conduct themselves exclusively in legitimate business practices.  Here is another example, far less friendly, than the first:  another annuitant, one from years past, still to this day receives calls and mail.  When he does receive calls, he states that many of the sales reps are “borderline belligerent” and just won’t get off the phone.  He has resorted to threats of suing them for harassment since they have kept calling for so long.  These sorts of measures should not have to be taken by any annuitant anywhere.  This same annuitant went on at length about how “no means no” and that he isn’t in the habit of changing his mind, no matter how much harassment he suffers as a result.  We at Bentzen Financial agree.  No does mean no.

Other tactics reported to us include the following, which we have come to expect as standard fare per testimonial:

  • Forcefully coercive tactics, misinformation included.  This includes pretending to be a representative of our own company to set the annuitant at ease before claiming that no, in fact the person is from another company and apologizes for the (consistent) misunderstanding.
  • Contacting with equal vigor the family of the annuitant; minors and out-of-state relatives included.  Some, especially children, more apt than others to be fooled by the “Gotcha!” checks.
  • Contacting the legal representatives of annuitants to the point of harassment as well.
  • Claims that Bentzen Financial is ripping annuitant off, and therefore the soliciting salesman’s company should naturally be selected as replacement, despite contractual obligations with us.
  • Physically showing up at an annuitant’s, annuitant’s family member’s, or annuitant’s legal representative’s home or place of business with an aggressive, in-person sales pitch.
  • Using dialing machines and automated messages to contact annuitants despite not being legally permitted; the indicated use of dialing machines is based upon time lags during the answering of phone calls.
  • Even if the annuitant does business with a company, which is to say that he or she gave in to the constant contact, the contact doesn’t stop – not even from the company that he or she gave in to.  This includes annuitants who don’t even have any money left to do business with.  Harassment continues despite this logical disconnect.

The standard fare is unacceptable and unfair not just to the annuitants, but to the businesses that are not otherwise engaged in these practices.  How is legitimate business expected to flourish if such a practice like scraping is allowed to continue?  The short answer is that it can’t.  The only logical conclusion is that if one is to try and compete with the dark side, one must join it.  Thus we come to a case mentioned in the preliminary findings report: where an annuitant was harassed not just by phone and mail, but also directly from a representative on Facebook.

This is easily one of the most astounding cases that we have come across.  Her testimony is standard, otherwise: constant mailings and phone calls.  Representatives are told to leave her alone but they refuse to do so; warnings and demands to stop are frequent.  The most persistent representative admitted to searching through all of Facebook for the annuitant by last name until he found her.  He then attempted his pitch again.  The annuitant was so disturbed by this man’s refusal to take the hint that she took a photo of her desktop, including the Facebook message, and forwarded it to us – after promptly refusing him once again.  The representative, the company he worked for, and the contents of the message were plain to see without any attempt at veiling it.  So brazen was this particular attempt that it is difficult to do this story justice without attaching the picture submitted to us; for privacy reasons, however, this is withheld.

These are the tactics employed by the scraping pariahs of our industry.  Part two of these investigation results will be released soon and will delve into what the annuitants themselves have to say about their experiences; what they think, feel, and want to see happen in the industry given their experiences.  Check back soon.

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.