American Consequences - January 2018


The owner – “Jack” – agreed to provide us unfettered behind-the-scenes access to his business... as long as we keep him anonymous. (Neither Bruce nor Jack are their real names.) The reasons for Jack’s caution are obvious. These folks keep a low profile. You won’t see the company’s name on the side of its vehicles. Drivers spend all night in many of the worst neighborhoods... And they aren’t very popular. Despite the industry’s gruff reputation, Jack’s company uses state-of-the-art technology to track down deadbeat borrowers for its clients – usually banks and other auto lenders. In the recovery industry, Bruce is known as a “spotter.” He drives a car outfitted with four cameras, two in the front and two in the back. These cameras are continuously and automatically snapping pictures of license plates as he combs the streets all night until dawn. The technology logs and stores the photos along with the time and location. When a lender needs a car back, it simply provides the license plate number to the company. Bruce cross-references it to his database to see if he’s ever snapped that plate. If the owner is anywhere in Baltimore... chances are Bruce has a good idea where to look for it.

An alarm sounded... It was different from the last one. “Live hit!” the driver gasped. He sped around the corner and killed the headlights. “Stay here. I’ll be right back.” He grabbed a small flashlight and stepped out of the car. I reached over and locked the doors. It was a bad neighborhood. And it was late at night. The driver returned with a grin and pumped his fist. “Yes!... We’ve been looking for that one for six months!” Last year on a Sunday evening, I spent four hours riding shotgun with a repo man in Baltimore, Maryland. “Bruce,” the driver, is a grizzled veteran of the repo business. He’s seen it all... and been shot at, beaten up, clubbed, and called every name you can imagine. He’s also been stabbed twice – both times by women. You may have seen one of the reality TV shows about vehicle repossession. But the company I visited is more than two muscle heads in a tow truck... With about 100 employees, it’s one of the 10 largest repo operations in the country.

By Bill Shaw

No matter where you live, chances are someone has photos of your car. If you default on your loan, they know

where to find you.


American Consequences 61

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