On the Trail of Deadbeat Parents State Turns to Collection Firms

Article excerpt

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

mailbox.

"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.

Professional help

Florida Department of Revenue officials turned to private

collection agencies late last year when they became frustrated

with their inability to find deadbeats and make them pay. …