Lee Song had already been caught forging checks when she swindled her former employer out of $127,122 by submitting phony payment vouchers. Less than four years later, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Minnesota Commerce Department cleared Song to work as a debt collector — a job with access to people’s private financial information. Song is one of at least 743 criminal offenders in Minnesota who have been registered as debt collectors since 2005.
When offenders filled out state applications to be debt collectors, 75 percent of them lied about having a criminal past. The Commerce Department collectors, routinely approves criminals to work in the collections industry without conducting background checks. “The system in this state for screening collectors is broken,” said Patrick Hayes, a Minneapolis attorney. “These are people who can find out where you bank, where you live, even where your friends and relatives live, and the state doesn’t seem to care if they are hardened criminals. Why even register collectors if you register criminals?” Their crimes include identity theft, rape, check forgery, assault, and most frequent, serious drunken driving offenses. Most offenders can legally work as collectors because state law excludes only those convicted of fraud or any felony within five years of their application. Some collectors who shouldn’t qualify because of their recent crimes are getting jobs. Since 2005, at least 111 registered collectors had committed crimes that under state law should have barred them from debt collecting.