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Old 02-27-2010, 02:53 AM   #1
AVANTI R5
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Default The Wired Repo Man: He’s Not ‘As Seen on TV




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BUSINESSES of every sort have been sucker-punched by the recession, but at least one enterprise has continued to grow through the downturn: auto repossession.

More than 1.9 million cars were recovered on behalf of lenders in 2009, a jump of 90,000 over the previous year and the latest in a decadelong string of annual increases, according to Tom Webb, chief economist of the consulting arm of Manheim Auctions.





But even in this boom, recovery businesses are trying to do more with less, taking advantage of computers and digital imaging. They are improving efficiency and reducing the need for tedious legwork in tracking skips — those delinquent borrowers who are the hardest to find — using technologies like automatic license plate recognition, which allows them to troll city streets and instantly identify cars whose loans are in arrears.

The electronic plate-reading systems may also help to reverse the unflattering image of repossession agents, as they prefer to be called. Lampooned in the 1984 film “Repo Man” and typically portrayed as shifty strongmen on cable television, they are saddled with a reputation for a willingness to do just about anything to grab a car, including staring down pit bulls, breaking into garages or playing the heavy with angry owners.

No doubt some of this behavior crops up in actual repossessions. But repo men — sure, there are women in the business, but it is still largely a guy’s game — can, at the cutting edge, be smooth-talking computer-savvy entrepreneurs who scour databases and digital maps to track down wanted vehicles.

At the core of this technology-intensive trend is a set of high-speed digital cameras mounted on the hood and trunk of a vehicle that snap pictures of license plates while passing other vehicles, even at 80 miles per hour. Photos of the plates (including the time the photo was taken and the car’s GPS coordinates) instantly pop up on a laptop computer inside the repo man’s vehicle. Optical character recognition software converts the plate numbers to text.

The process gets more technical: the plate numbers are checked against an encrypted database of delinquent cars, compiled from lenders and stored on the computer, which is refreshed continuously using a wireless link.In most cases, the license plates photographed are attached to cars with no payment problems. But when a plate on a wanted list is found, the computer screen displays further information, including the make and model, its vehicle identification number, or VIN, and the name of the lender. The data is used to confirm that the right car has been found — scofflaws sometimes swap license plates, for instance.
If the car is parked, a tow truck can be called in; if not, the repo man can follow the car and, with luck and tact, negotiate a handover when the driver parks.

In their short time on the market, the camera systems sold by MVTRAC, Recovery Tech and others have upended the way repo men do their jobs. Instead of visiting a long list of addresses where a car might be, repossession agents are driving through parking lots, shopping malls and neighborhoods in search of wanted vehicles.

“This technology allows the tow truck driver to find the needle in the haystack,” said Martin Alper, chairman of PlateScan, which supplies plate-reading technology to Recovery Tech and others. “This allows you to automate what used to be done by hand.”

Though seemingly more random, automated plate recognition holds great promise for recovery companies and for auto lenders, who have seen the number of car loan defaults skyrocket in the past few years.

“Every month we’re putting on more and more lenders,” said Scott Jackson, chief executive of MVTRAC, referring to the growth of his company’s database of wanted cars. “A month from now, two months from now, the acceleration of the organism will grow. You should buy stock in flatbed trucks.

As is often the case, one person’s technological innovation is another person’s potential weapon. Privacy advocates say that collecting license plate numbers on public streets raises concerns — and they have substantial questions over where the numbers might end up once they are collected.

Protective of their public image, banks and auto lenders refuse to discuss plate-reading technology. Repossessions have been a fact of life in the industry for decades, but finance companies try to keep their distance from the sometimes messy practice of reclaiming cars.

“That part of the business is there, but it is something to be avoided,” said Mike Stoller, a spokesman for GMAC.
As is the case with other surveillance technologies, automatic license-plate recognition was originally developed for the military. Mr. Alper and others said it was first used in Britain to track the cars of suspected terrorists.

The technology soon spread. For instance, drivers entering London’s congestion pricing zone do not use radio-frequency transponders — the technology behind the E-ZPass toll payment system — but instead have their license plates photographed and bills sent automatically to car owners.

Police departments around the country now use the plate-reading technology to identify stolen cars. Instead of manually typing plate numbers into a computer, officers on patrol can check thousands of cars against stolen car databases as they pass them on the street.

MVTRAC’s early use of the technology depended on some 8,000 fixed cameras placed in parking lots, toll plazas and other busy spots. The company has since moved to mobile cameras because they let repossession companies spot the cars and recover them more quickly.

Typically, a repo operation covers a limited area like a single city or county, so its own list may contain only a few hundred wanted cars. By working with MVTRAC, access is expanded to a national database of some 100,000 wanted cars. This improves the chances of finding a car and earning a recovery fee of $200 to $400.

Brian Mason, chief executive of Seven Star Recovery Services, which operates primarily in Orange County, Calif., found a wanted car in MVTRAC’s database while driving on Interstate 5. When his computer matched the plate with the list of wanted vehicles, the ka-ching sound of a vintage cash register rang out. Mr. Mason followed the driver home, where he handed over the car.

“It’s definitely the tool of the future,” Mr. Mason said. “It’s a great feeling when you get a hit. It’s like a slot machine in Vegas, only now I don’t have to go to Vegas.”

A subscription for MVTRAC’s camera and computer system costs $600 a month, a luxury for small repossessers. But because new car sales have slowed and banks are tightening lending standards, the number of repossessions is expected to slow through 2012, according to Mr. Webb of Manheim Consulting.

This means repo men in the coming years are going to fight over a shrinking pool of cars. For repo men like Rodney Myers, who runs All Valley Recovery in Harlingen, Tex., MVTRAC is now more of a necessity.

“It was a big step that I was nervous to take,” said Mr. Myers, who has doubled the number of cars he recovers each month. “It’s a lot of money, but once I took the step, it’s been a relief.”



http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/28/au...er=rss&emc=rss
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Old 03-01-2010, 01:08 AM   #2
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Reading the title thought it would have had some sort of tie in with OnStar or the like. They're just plugging into the same stuff the local cops are now doing for licence plate checks.

Not sure I like, but it's out in the public.

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Old 03-01-2010, 08:34 AM   #3
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*didn't read anything*

Yeah, when you're buying that new Z06.. the fact that you're going to be parking it on the street should be your first telltale that you can't afford it.

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Old 03-01-2010, 09:45 AM   #4
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so they drive through parking lots and neighborhoods running this scanning software.

easy, no front license plate and back in everywhere.

as the technology for these things improve, the operators are going to get lazier and people who want to not get caught will have an easier time not getting caught.
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Old 03-01-2010, 10:01 AM   #5
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so they drive through parking lots and neighborhoods running this scanning software.

easy, no front license plate and back in everywhere.

as the technology for these things improve, the operators are going to get lazier and people who want to not get caught will have an easier time not getting caught.
Doesn't work if you have to parallel park in the city.
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Old 03-01-2010, 10:44 AM   #6
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or if they have your VIN #..then parked backed in your even easier to get to. either way they will get you if your not parked in your garage and never drive the car anywhere. they will stalk you and get the car.
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Old 03-01-2010, 10:48 AM   #7
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Doesn't work if you have to parallel park in the city.
It does if you use a magnetic license plate bracket and take it with you whenever you park. Oh.. and don't go home, they'll track you down there too.


Not paying your bills is serious bidness.


Question: If you aren't paying for your car because you can't make the payments.. isn't it possible just to call the bank and arrange dropping the car off? I've always assumed this is an option.. but I guess there's a chance some banks only repossess cars through repo men? Anyone know?
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Old 03-01-2010, 12:12 PM   #8
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Question: If you aren't paying for your car because you can't make the payments.. isn't it possible just to call the bank and arrange dropping the car off? I've always assumed this is an option.. but I guess there's a chance some banks only repossess cars through repo men? Anyone know?
One of our local members tried this. After trying to set up a time and place to turn the car in some repo guys showed up in the middle of the night and tried to make off with the car and everything in it. The cops were called and he was given time to get his stuff out, but not before the repo guys tried to run him over with the tow truck and make off before the cops arrived.

It's not illegal but I'm waiting for some repo guy in Texas to get shot pulling this kind of stunt. Where will the law and order crowd fall over that situation?
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Old 03-01-2010, 12:34 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Beaverboy View Post
It does if you use a magnetic license plate bracket and take it with you whenever you park. Oh.. and don't go home, they'll track you down there too.


Not paying your bills is serious bidness.


Question: If you aren't paying for your car because you can't make the payments.. isn't it possible just to call the bank and arrange dropping the car off? I've always assumed this is an option.. but I guess there's a chance some banks only repossess cars through repo men? Anyone know?
drive it to mexico, sell it and claim as stolen.

unless your insurance has a clause about your car being stolen outside of the USA, then you're f-ed in the a
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:18 PM   #10
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I have a great uncle who was a repo guy for years and years. He never had one issue - always worked the early morning hours and nearly 99% of the time had a key to the car needing to be recovered.

I can remember him visiting us on occasion and having us drop him off on a random corner only to have him show up that morning with donuts coffee and some one's shiny car they didn't make payments on. He would load the car on his truck and head home. He would cross state lines with all the proper paperwork if the repo job paid enough.

He also had a old dodge truck with a fancy tow rig set up which enabled him to essentially grab a car off the street without leaving the cab. He showed us how it worked took him about 9 minutes to snag our car parallel parked between cars on the curb.

The repo TV shows all operate during the day and at the times that result in the biggest drama. Which is not how the pro's work.
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:20 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by samagon View Post
drive it to mexico, sell it and claim as stolen.

unless your insurance has a clause about your car being stolen outside of the USA, then you're f-ed in the a
Why tell the truth about where you were if you're going to commit fraud?
Not that I'm trying to help anybody get away with fraud... Just thought that last part was funny.
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:21 PM   #12
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[quote=Beaverboy;29913173Yeah, when you're buying that new Z06.. the fact that you're going to be parking it on the street should be your first telltale that you can't afford it.[/QUOTE]

I park my Corvette in the street because my driveway is taken up by Ferrari's.
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:25 PM   #13
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Pretty much any US based auto insurer will need a special inclusion and fee added if you drive into Mexico with your car. A friend in SD had his truck stolen in Mexico while he was there. His insurer even with the special notice and fee for Mexico driving was nearly impossible to get his money for the truck. And it was an old truck worth like $3000.
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Old 03-01-2010, 03:27 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by under5 View Post
I park my Corvette in the street because my driveway is taken up by Ferrari's.
lol seriously. Besides have you seen house prices in CA. Heck a few years back you could afford a fleet of cars... just no place to park them :P

Last edited by fuji6; 03-01-2010 at 03:27 PM. Reason: spelling > me
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Old 03-01-2010, 08:51 PM   #15
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I'm surprised that repo's were only up 5 %.
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Old 03-01-2010, 08:55 PM   #16
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To avoid a repo, you better keep it in a locked garage. They can't force their way in. But don't buy the car if you can't afford it. FYI- Operation Repo is a fantastically bad show.
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Old 03-02-2010, 11:04 AM   #17
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Originally Posted by Beaverboy View Post
It does if you use a magnetic license plate bracket and take it with you whenever you park. Oh.. and don't go home, they'll track you down there too.

won't work either. You'll get towed by the city for not having current registration/plates
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