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Stacey Vanek-Smith: The recession has been on tough on business. But there’s at least one sector that’s booming: car repossession. Last year, nearly two million cars were repossessed — that’s a jump of almost 12 percent. But the industry has also seen increase in violence against its workers. In Alabama, this year, there have been three shootings involving repo men. They were separate incidents, but the deaths have given other repo men pause. From Birmingham, Ala.,
Gigi Douban reports.
Gigi Douban: Jeff Cash has been a repo man in Birmingham , Alabama for 15 years. Since the recession, he’s been a lot busier. On this day, Cash has been working for 38 hours straight. He lives on energy drinks. But he’s not complaining.
Jeff Cash: I mean, the bad economy is good for us. We’re like the vultures. You know, crash and burn and we’re over here picking our meat and getting our cars and stuff.
Cash doesn’t need a license to do repo work. He contracts his services out with lenders, but he only gets paid when he delivers the items he’s repossessed.
Ron Brown is the chairman of Time Finance Adjusters. That’s a repossession trade group. He says the recent uptick in repossessions has meant more people wanting a slice of the repo pie-mostly untrained tow truck drivers.
Ron Brown: Inexperienced people getting in the business with a perception of what a repo man is compared to in reality what a recovery specialist is.
The reality is the profession is becoming more dangerous.
Jeff Cash is well aware of the violence that’s plagued Alabama repo men in recent months, but he doesn’t carry a gun.
Cash: You start flashing a gun, then they want to flash their gun. I’m not all about that. I’m here to make a living, that’s it.
Last year, Cash earned $180,000 — enough to pay for a radar detector, a laptop and a GPS system in his tow truck And he’s doing even better this year. But some of that money goes to pay off his sources.
Cash just received a tip. One of his informants has spotted a truck Cash wants to locate. For that Cash pays a finder’s fee. Anywhere from $50 to $500, depends on what the car is.
With the information, Cash pulls into a neighborhood and sees the truck. He backs into the driveway, clamps the tires and lifts it away. Cash heads to the lot where he’ll drop off the truck, and he pockets $250.
In Birmingham, I’m Gigi Douban for Marketplace.
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