Is Private Surveillance Behind Crazy Car Loans?

Big Brother Is Repossessing You (Courtesy: Boston Globe/

Big Brother Is Repossessing You (Courtesy: Boston Globe/

There’s been a lot of news about the explosion in auto credit in the US, which now exceeds credit card debt and ranks second only to student debt in non-mortgage consumer credit. Every aspect of auto-backed debt -amount, term length, securitization, subprime availability- has hit new highs recently… except repossessions, which remain relatively low.  And that, say the issuers, bundlers and sellers of auto debt, is what makes the credit class so safe relative to mortgage debt. Because repossessing a car is relatively easier than repossessing a house, bad debts are easier to collect.

I’ve always been a skeptic of this logic, pointing out that cars are also much easier to hide from debt collectors than houses. But, of course, it turns out there’s a sinister technological fix to that problem that I simply never thought about: high-tech “spotter cars” sweeping the roads for repossessable vehicles. BetaBoston has the story:

Few notice the “spotter car” from Manny Sousa’s repo company as it scours Massachusetts parking lots, looking for vehicles whose owners have defaulted on their loans. Sousa’s unmarked car is part of a technological revolution that goes well beyond the repossession business, transforming any ­industry that wants to check on the whereabouts of ordinary people.

An automated reader attached to the spotter car takes a picture of every ­license plate it passes and sends it to a company in Texas that already has more than 1.8 billion plate scans from vehicles across the country.

These scans mean big money for Sousa — typically $200 to $400 every time the spotter finds a vehicle that’s stolen or in default — so he runs his spotter around the clock, typically adding 8,000 plate scans to the database in Texas each day.

Overheating credit markets make for lots of sob stories… but now they’re driving the creeping grasp of surveillance as well.  Digital scanning companies now claim they have the First Amendment right to collect pictures of license plates in public places. Just a little something you might not have realized was behind all those “US Car Market Still Growing Strong” headlines…  Read the whole thing here.