Thursday, January 31, 2008

Debt collection agency legality and ethics questioned in Macedonia

Due to the notorious inefficiency of the courts and the judicial system in Macedonia, some firms are seeking assistance from collection agencies when they are unable to collect debts from private citizens. While proprietary law experts believe debt collection is a "racket" that is questionable legally and ethically, the agencies claim they adhere to the law for obligatory relations, which regulates issues regarding contracts.

According to collection agency officials, the moment the debtor starts a telephone conversation, he is consenting to negotiate. Debtors, however, are disturbed by the pressure tactics and incessant, strategically timed calls. "Agents call early mornings on weekends, when they are sure we are home, but asleep," said 48-year-old Blagoja Stojanovski, a married father of three.

"They introduce themselves only by name and if we aren't at home, they ask our children for our mobile phone numbers. They even ask them where we work. I believe it's child maltreatment and coercive extortion of private information," he said.

Central heating provider Skopje-Sever Director Dragan Mekanigiev has used collection agencies when clients have not paid their bills. "We have hired two debt collection agencies for certain periods of time and paid them based on their success rate," he said.

"We had complaints from our customers who owed money, but the agents' conduct is probably acceptable," Mekanigiev said. "I’m not familiar with the code of conduct of these agencies, but they do have a certain time frame of when they can call debtors and how they are supposed to communicate with them. I believe they do their best to maintain the reputation of their agency."

The legal implications of such practices remain unclear, because harassment is punishable by law. Possibly of greater interest to companies who might use the agencies is the fact that these practices have questionable results.

"Collection must go through legal channels if the debt is not paid. It's an obligatory relationship between the debtor and the vendor," University American College Skopje professor Zvonimir Jankulovski said.

"It remains unclear under what law one could say racketeering is being used against these citizens," Jankulovski said. "The legal basis for companies to hire such agencies and the method for calculating the collection fee for these agencies is also vague."

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