Deadbeat dads better find a new rock to crawl under now that Calvin and Philessa Jenkins are on their trail.
The couple, who run World Collections on Druid Park Avenue, are branching beyond their typical business of finding delinquent debtors for lenders such as Wells Fargo to take aim at those skimping on child support.
The self-schooled sleuths say they are better than the state agency in charge of tracking down deadbeat dads and can locate their marks faster. More so, they say, their niche business meets a definite need and can save taxpayers a lot of money.
Some statistics support their claims.
Only about half the money due to single moms is collected each month, said Robert Riddle, the director of Georgia's Office of Child Support Enforcement. The roughly 700 investigators - a mix of civil servants and workers from a private company on contract with the state - each carry a caseload of 1,000.
"As a state agency we're limited by budget and things like how many search firms we can subscribe to ... ," Mr. Riddle said from his Atlanta office.
Even so, he says, a typical case in which a Social Security number is supplied and the missing parent holds a stable job still takes as long as 30 days.
The Jenkins can conduct the search sometimes as fast as 30 minutes, finding such details as former living addresses, a sister-in-law's maiden name and the church the person used on Election Day as a polling station.
The speed and efficiency costs more, however. Whereas the state processing fee is $25, World Collections charges $99, a deep discount to its usual $340 for a full search.
"A few get by us, just like in any business," Mr. Jenkins said. "Some women, for example, are tough because they get married, change their names and then stay at home."
Child Support Enforcement records show that 95 percent of parents owing money are fathers.
In its latest fiscal year, Georgia collected $523.8 million, using a variety of techniques, such as garnisheeing wages and redirecting tax refunds to the single parent. In 2002, the state started requiring anyone applying for a hunting and fishing license to provide a Social Security number to expand its data banks in searches for deadbeat dads.
Still, there's another half-billion dollars in support payments out there waiting to be collected, and the Jenkins say their near-perfect success rate is proof they can help.
"We don't get paid unless we find the person, so that's incentive enough," Mr. Jenkins said from his cramped office strewn with legal books and fitted with security cameras to show who's coming and going. "We also feel that this is a community service. We want people to know that we're not always taking. We give back, too."
Success also means saving the tax dollars used in state assistance programs for many single moms. Once their ex is found and forced to pay support, they are taken off welfare.
The Jenkins rely on about five paid-for Internet sources, compared with one the state uses, to gobble up public information in cyberspace. Mr. Jenkins brings two decades of collections experience. Mrs. Jenkins has five years of Army intelligence training and makes sure the office complies with state and federal regulations.
Though Mr. Jenkins was reluctant to discuss his bag of tricks on how to find debtors, he mentioned he will sometimes send out a free phone card or money order and track where it's used or cashed in. He also keeps detailed records of all incoming phone calls.
The two never confront anyone they tail, saying when they do it right, no one knows they were on a job. Once they locate someone, they pass the information over to lawyers and processors who then serve court papers.
Mr. Jenkins knows better than do it himself.
While working in the collections department of Badcock Furniture in 1989, a debtor disgruntled about an impending repossession drove a tractor-trailer through his office. That put him in the hospital for 97 days, and the injuries nearly cost him his left arm.
"It's not personal. It's just business," Mr. Jenkins says often, making it his mantra. "Still, we don't want any part of confronting people. Let others do that after we find them."
Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information
State Child Support Hotline (800) 227-7993 or go to www.cse.dhr.state.ga.us.
World Collections (706) 739-0050 or go to www.worldcollectionsagencyinc.com.
BY THE NUMBERS
$523.8 million: Money Georgia collected in child support payments during the 2003 fiscal year
50 percent: Amount of child support payments not collected in 2003
95 percent: Amount of child-support owing parents who are fathers
700: The number of agents and investigators in charge of enforcing child support payments
1,000: Average number of cases per enforcement agent
Source: Child Support Enforcement Agency