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ESCONDIDO, Calif. — Premier Recovery Service received a repossession assignment earlier this year and immediately went to work on tracking down the collateral near where the contract originated in San Diego.

Searching for the debtor through Facebook revealed the vehicle wasn't anywhere near the agent's home base or even in southern California. Premier Recovery Service owner Mike Plue's team still recovered the vehicle — deep in the Northeast near New Hampshire.

Plue declared, "The debtor must have woken up one morning and said, ‘How did they find me?'"

Recovery agents already adept at using Internet tools for skip-tracing and other repossession processes are starting to turn to social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter as a path to satisfying a client assignment.

"I'm amazed at the amount of time people spend on Facebook and the other social networks," Plue pointed out during a phone interview with Auto Remarketing. "It seems like it's the most current information.

"A lot of times, when we get a new assignment, one of the things we focus on is the date of birth. If someone is between 20 and 35, the probability of them having a Facebook page is extremely high."

In another case involving an assignment at Midland Auto Recovery based in Columbia, S.C., Facebook again was the key ingredient in completing the task.

Owner Dick Frame recalled the recent incident where one of his associates had been on the search for a luxury SUV for quite some time. The associate did a search for the debtor, and not only did she find his Facebook page, but also a picture of him standing against the vehicle.

She made a Facebook friend request, and Frame said the debtor immediately added her to his list of more than 500 contacts. She continued to communicate with the debtor, even divulging she worked for a recovery agency. Midland Auto Recovery used the dialogue and Facebook pictures to repossess the collateral.

"I'm not lying because this sounds made up, but he said he just loved the vehicle," Frame shared with Auto Remarketing. "It's just amazing how much information a person is willing to give up on a Facebook page."

Multitudes of pictures, activity updates and more are all at the heart of Web pages such as Facebook. Both Plue and Frame pointed out how the data posts usually include a date and time stamp, giving clear guidance about how fresh the information might be. They stressed how that situation is different from pay-search Internet databases that provide plenty of information but that might be severely outdated.

"What we've found in the past three years, we've gone away from some of the pay-search sites to a lot of stuff that's just out there as public information on Facebook, MySpace and those types of things," Frame explained.

"We first try to use those Internet services that are public-based first. But if we need to narrow it down, we might use the pay site. But we're using those ones a lot less," he continued.

Both Plue and Frame have operated their companies less than six years apiece, making them relative newcomers to the recovery industry. Conversely, Alex Price, currently national sales and training manager with MasterFiles, has been in the industry for more than 25 years.

Price recollected how tracking debtors was done at the outset of his career, emphasizing how the telephone, a credit application and a Haines Criss+Cross Directory all were invaluable. He acknowledged that not every recovery professional embraces the Internet — let alone social networking sites — as much as he has.

"You have your old-school collectors and skip-tracers who were afraid of the new technology that was coming out so they didn't embrace it. Those who embraced it became successful with it," Price indicated in an interview with Auto Remarketing from his office in Mobile, Ala.

"All the Internet and technology did was it made information readily available as fast as you can click, what used to take you weeks or months to compile. If I needed information on a bankruptcy or a divorce in Dallas, I had to find someone I knew in Dallas who would wait in line at the courthouse, call me and read it off or mail it to me," he continued.

"That technology scared a lot of people, so what happened was as technology advanced my generation of skip-tracers did an injustice to this generation of skip-tracers by not teaching them old-school techniques and how to work the field," added Price, who also has been a trainer to the American Recovery Association and former advisory board member to Time Finance Adjusters and the Society of Certified Recovery Agents.

Echoing Price's position, Plue also indicated that simply doing searches on a site like Facebook is not going to complete every single assignment that arrives.

"The social networks aren't necessarily a silver bullet," Plue advised. "Sometimes on the networks, especially if you have a common name, it's very difficult to distinguish which individual you're looking for.

"Some of the information they disclose on the Facebook page, where they went to high school, are things that can help us cross-reference with other databases," he added.

With the recent success Plue and Frame have had using social networking sites, Price anticipates that recovery agencies likely will need to scour them in order to complete assignments more effectively.

"It's a tremendous resource because you figure there are more people on Facebook than voted in the last presidential election," Price interjected.

"We live in a privacy driven culture where everybody wants to keep their little niche in life private, but they will put everything about themselves — pictures of family vacations, their home, their car, where they go to church, their secrets — they'll put it all on a Facebook page for entire world to see," he went on to say.

"A skip-tracer's greatest tool is their creativity and their imagination, their ability to put themselves in that individual's shoes and figure out what they're doing or what they'll do next," Price concluded.