Mar 01, 2013 Philip Burgess
As several sources run with the story of a Texas woman's harassment by a fraudulent debt collection agent, debt collection data professionals are speaking out about the poor image lazy reporting has given the industry and noting how journalistic integrity can make it right.
Media blends crime and legitimate business
?InsideARM reports while some sources have taken Allison Currie's story as it is, others like The Huffington Post have used the incident to make a monster of the debt collection business as a whole. Currie, a Houston, Texas, native spoke with KHOU-TV about her experience with collections fraud last week, sparking a media frenzy over the perpetrator's act of threatening her deceased sister Samantha. The source claimed throughout its findings that the company the fake collector said he was with, Global Litigation Group, was not a registered business and that related cases exclusively involved industry posers, not legitimate consumer credit data organizations.
Better Business Bureau associate Monica Russo told KHOU-TV that the kind of complaints Currie made about the calls were in line with other reports of fraud.
"We see them all the time with phony debt collectors," she said.
The Huffington Post does not use the terms "fraud," "fake" or "illegitimate" in its coverage of the story, effectively ignoring the distinction between real and fraudulent members of the debt collection industry. The person responsible for harassing Currie over her dead sister, according to the source, was an evil, but industry-approved, debt collector. Collection calls and threats made by phone, email or paper correspondence, the Huffington Post claims, are happening today to solicit payments of debts that might not even exist, yet not once is it insinuated that the agencies or individuals making such efforts are separate from the reported 4,500 registered collection firms in the United States.
The source's statement that new supervisory rules put in place by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will alleviate these incidents is false, according to InsideARM, as the debt-savvy publication points out that the only businesses affected will be large corporations working legally in consumer credit data. InsideARM makes the case that legitimate debt collection businesses are being hurt at the expense of sloppy reporting.
Ethical compliance affects all industries
The code of ethics for the Society of Professional Journalism shows many problems in the work of publications like the Huffington Post, which fail to separate fair-practicing organizations from illegal, unregistered operations. The first two points on the Society's list are to ensure information is correct regarding any subject and to make a great effort to seek responses from all related parties mentioned in a story. It is not known if the Huffington Post sought out commentary from leading debt collection industry executives or even Federal Trade Commission officials, but to refer to fraudulent businesses as part of the legitimate debt collection community is certainly not in best practices of journalism, as InsideARM mentions.
The article released by KHOU-TV is one leading news sources can take as an example of fair reporting based on the Society of Professional Journalism's guidelines. KHOU's writers and editors were sure to discover the true business status of Global Litigation Group, and the language used in its report made it clear that a fraudulent organization rather than an accredited debt collection business was making consumer threats.
InsideARM says reporting that is clear and fair to businesses like those in the debt collection industry can be overlooked by consumers, especially when writers working for highly visible magazines and websites do not accurately represent the facts. Unfortunately, debt collection agencies do not have much of a defense to this bad press, so they are encouraged to work that much harder to achieve and maintain professional practices.