Business for debt collectors in Spain, where the industry is barely regulated and uses methods mostly illegal in the U.S., has risen by an estimated 40% in the past five years.
Unique to collecting in Spain is the cobrador del frac (the frock-coated debt collector) that typically involves a man dressed in a black frock coat and top hat, toting a black brief case with "debt collector" in large letters and standing quietly outside a house, office or even next to someone's table in a restaurant. The message is obvious.
"The figure of the cobrador is so well known he doesn't have to say anything," Juan Lorca, manager of the Barcelona office of the Cobrador del Frac, told The Guardian. The company has branches across Spain and Portugal and has been in business for 25 years.
The idea, he says, originated in Ecuador where a group of business people decided to shame their creditors into paying by having them pursued by a man dressed as a chicken. In Spain, other collection agencies employ actors to dress up as bullfighters, monks and bears. Each carries the black briefcase with "debt collector" printed on the side.
Almost all their clients are businesses owed money by other businesses, Lorca told The Guardian. He also points out that they only pursue people who are able to pay, but simply refuse. "We don't pursue people who have no money, but people who may have concealed their money in fake companies for example," he says.
Sending in the cobrador is a last resort, Lorca adds. The company works either for a fixed fee or a percentage of the debt recovered. Lorca claims an 80% success rate.