Sharks, piranhas, vultures, predators. These are just some of the choice words that annuitants have had for some businesses in the industry. Part one of the harassment investigation dealt with the tactics employed by these unscrupulous businessmen and women and part two with the reactions of the annuitants and their families. Taking those into account, how can we, as an industry, not admit that scraping is a dire problem to be dealt with? Are we all to be lumped in with the sharks, piranhas, vultures, and predators? Must we all conduct ourselves and our businesses as these others do in order to stay competitive? Must we simply accept that further victimizing annuitants and their families is the moral price of working in this industry? We cannot agree.
The factoring side, or secondary market, began because of a very real possibility for those with structured settlements and annuities: sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Sometimes those monthly payments aren’t good enough to cut it anymore; unexpected expenses arise that go beyond the means provided by the payment stream available to them. So what’s left? They need to factor either a part or all of their structured settlement or annuity to make ends meet. Sometimes this isn’t the case at all – sometimes someone believes that the money is an opportunity to do more with their lives – and that is entirely their prerogative… provided of course that they can convince a judge. These are very real and legitimate reasons for this side to exist, but one thing must always be remembered: these people deal with us, factoring types, because they feel they must.
All of our companies, beyond providing us a means to support our families, were founded to help those in need, not to harm. Annuitants are not wallets and bank accounts for us to raid, they are people who need their funds for one thing or another; people with stories, from heartbreaking to dumbfounding, that many of us hear every day – it’s the human part of the business equation, and the part that’s being victimized. Our jobs are to help get annuitants through it all, be it following a traumatic event or simply to help pay the bills. It is not our place to prey upon them. So, what can we do about it?
The industry can voluntarily stop scraping and known scrapers in their tracks. If this was so simple, though, this investigation would have been unnecessary. The industry can police itself better; do business with those with clean records and squeeze out those who resort to unethical means. Alternatively, a much harder line can be taken.
The tactics of scraping are illegal, especially when it is deemed harassment. Litigation to punish offenders could be taken, but will this change anything or merely drive offenders to greater secrecy, or perhaps even more unscrupulous means of obtaining business illicitly? Maybe, maybe not. It’s worth looking into, surely, given the willingness of some annuitants to provide records of contact. But what else can be done?
In the words of several annuitants: “the information should be private, and I (or we) should be left alone. If I want to do business with someone, I’ll seek them out – they should just leave me alone.” The industry has had success approaching problems with Congressional input in the past and we can do so again. Legitimate business is maintained and annuitants are saved from endless hassle and harassment. This not only can be done, but should be done.
Consider the image that the annuitants who fall victim to this garner towards the industry. Do we want the industry’s reputation to crumble under the weight of perceptions of crookedness and predatory behavior? Or do we want to maintain a modicum of respect, both for ourselves and for our clientele, by addressing the problem that scraping represents?
Scraping should not be an option left on the table. The means are already illegal, but the means are only available due to lack of privacy protection afforded annuitants who go through the legal process. These protections should not, in actuality, be necessary given the way the legal system works – but due to the rising prevalence of predatory business practices, it seems necessary.
Should government have to get involved to help both businesses and annuitants? No, it should be left to do whatever else needs to be done. The government shouldn’t have to divert any time or attention to a matter of what is essentially internal business ethics. But, if the industry can’t be trusted to conduct itself properly, then someone or something must step in to assist.
Is there another alternative? Of course. The formation of an industry watchdog, like in other industries, could potentially work. However, what enforcement mechanism is there? What could possibly be done? A sharply worded letter? A fine? Companies that violate the TCPA are subject to a $500 – $1,500 fine already, and this does not seem to dissuade the harassing behavior by itself. So, we’ve decided to work with an attorney willing to take on a class-action suit. If you have any clients who are willing to stand against their harassers, we encourage you to make contact with us and we will refer you to the attorney in question.
Ideally, all offenders would “see the light” and conduct themselves appropriately, but that is farce and fantasy. The problem exists and the offenders profit far too much off of continuing, no different than drug smugglers or snake oil merchants of old, despite the risks. We must either make the risks far too great or simply nullify the ability for them to get the information required for scraping to occur.
This is a call to action for all concerned to stand up and do something about the threat to legitimate business and our clients that scraping represents. It cannot and should not be allowed to continue. Combined and coordinated efforts will yield positive results for all of us, not just our company, and not just yours. Free, fair, and ethical business can and should rule the day.