One offshoot of the increasing failure of many households to keep up loan payments is the proliferation of debt-collecting firms since 1994, when consumer credit started to increase sharply. Banks are handing over the job of warning customers in arrears to these firms. Some of the reminders are within the bounds of «polite warning systems,» while others go a step further. The first category comprises established companies working with banks. The second are the more fly-by-night firms that usually undertake to collect loan payments from large firms selling household appliances or mobile telephones. M. Kanaki, managing director of Veritas Bureau, was the only representative in the sector who agreed to speak to Kathimerini. She said the payments her company collects are chiefly for open loans with overdue payments of between three to nine months. When the payments are one year overdue, the bank’s lawyers take over. «We usually issue verbal warnings. Banks do not want settlements of three to nine months’ delay to be carried over more than four or five months,» said Kanaki. Her company tries to locate debtors who have disappeared, by telephoning relatives or business colleagues. Unemployment and illness are the usual reasons given. «As we are unable to ascertain the truthfulness of these excuses, we try to convince the debtor to pay up, explaining that otherwise, legal action will follow,» she explained. «The banks determine the type of arguments we use. At no stage do we use threats or insults. Banks prefer to keep their good name rather than get five drachmas more,» said Kanaki. A different picture is presented by I. Koukouyiannis, of the Union of Consumers – Quality of Life (EKPIZO). «These companies call at any time of the day, they even call relatives. In one case they called a debtor’s aged mother, who almost had a heart attack when they told her her son could go to prison. Lately we have had complaints from people who had canceled their credit cards or mobile telephone contracts six or seven years previously. As they had paid the last bill they had not kept any of the receipts. Many of these banks or phone companies have given all their clients’ details to these companies. So some of them call up, without leaving their name, claiming to be lawyers and threatening people with legal action if they don’t deposit a certain amount in a certain bank account. Naturally, the average person is terrified. Our legal service can draw up a document to be sent to the bank or company in question. Usually they reply that a mistake has been made,» he said.