They chat with neighbors or schmooze with bosses.
They comb data bases, scrutinize Social Security numbers and
pore over property tax records. They review brokerage accounts
and federal data.
Like gumshoes stalking a slippery suspect, employees at two
collection agencies are on the trail of thousands of Florida
folks who don't pay court-ordered child support. Using
techniques perfected on people who ignore overdue medical bills
or credit card debts, collectors are hunting down non-paying
parents and urging them to ante up.
"It definitely has been a success," said Chuck Springston, a
spokesman for the state Department of Revenue, which oversees
the state's child support collection program. "These are people,
when we referred them to privatized companies, who hadn't paid a
dime in the previous six months."
Between early January and April 30, the collection agencies
have located 10,138 elusive or non-paying Florida parents on
their 100,000-name lists and wrung about $5.4 million from them.
The private agencies have collected $545,520 from 1,160 parents
in Northeast Florida's five counties, state records show.
Payments in Duval County have ranged from $8.75 to $7,123.
`I was shocked'
Jennifer Robertson credits aggressive collection efforts with
finally getting her ex-husband to support their 5-year-old son.
Shane Baughman is ordered to pay $65 a week but has never paid
consistently, racking up a debt of nearly $7,300, according to
state records. That rankled Robertson, a Jacksonville woman who
said she relies on Aid to Families with Dependent Children and
two jobs to provide for her son, Roger.
When a collection agency employee phoned a few months ago
seeking any details about her ex-husband's whereabouts, she
provided his Social Security number and his most recent phone
number. Not long after that, she found a support check in her
"I was shocked," she said. "I didn't know whether to cash it or
hold it. . . . I went to my best friend and said, `Look!' "
Since early 1996, employees of RSI Enterprises Inc. in Arizona
have extracted some payment from about 8 percent of the 51,000
Florida deadbeats they have been hired to find.
"Generally, they're very surprised someone has located them.
They are generally trying not to be found," said president Tim
Brainerd. "It is amazing the efforts they go to to remain
missing. They'll change their name or their Social Security
number or their address."
Georgia Gov. Zell Miller also credits collection agencies with
finding deadbeats and persuading them to pay up. Georgia parents
who owe support are paying about $2 million a month toward the
debt. In the past five years, crackdowns have netted the state
about $1.1 billion in support.
Lockheed Martin IMS of New Jersey has child support contracts
in 30 states, including Georgia and Florida.
Florida Department of Revenue officials turned to private
collection agencies late last year when they became frustrated