Men dressed as the Pink Panther, Superman or Zorro have become a feature of life in Portugal in recent years for people behind on their repayments, reports the London Times.
The costumed debt collectors, known as cobradores do fraque, “often use megaphones to broadcast the parlous state of their target’s finances to neighbours, relying on public humiliation to persuade them to pay up”, the paper explains.
But now the Socialist government is set to “order the costumes be put back in the box.
“It has drawn up a bill which is certain to be passed to guarantee the rights and dignity of those who owe money.
Under the new rules, the collectors will not be able to call after 8pm, and cannot use “tactics which degrade the image of the debtors”.
Any action by collectors seen as oppressive or intrusive “could lead to fines of between €2,500 and €44,000”.
Here however the OTT tactics of masked debt collectors are being played down.
Lusa has referred simply to the term “cobradores do fraque” with no reference at all to men dressed up to look like the Pink Panther, Zorro or any other fictitious character.
The bill is the handiwork of PS MP Pedro Delgado Alves, and according to Lusa “lawyers and solicitors” are none too pleased with it.
But as Alves explains, the measures that set out simply to protect consumers who find themselves “in a fragile position”.
It is time the State “assumed control and supervision” of activities that up till now have been free to overstep the mark, he told Lusa.
Says the Times, least pleased with the looming legal change – due to come under debate in parliament on Thursday – are the masked debt collectors themselves.
Said João Soto of Lisbon’s “Zorro debt collector agency” (unlisted as such in Portugal…) “this law will damage our industry”.
Soto is nonetheless quoted as admitting that “there had been excesses committed in the industry”, though he remains of the opinion that a debtor is “the person who does not pay because they don’t want to. The creditor is the one who loses out”.
It remains to be seen what parliament decides next Thursday.
Says Lusa, the Socialist Party simply wants “ample consensus” so that extrajudicial debt collecting can go ahead without people resorting to “aggressive practices” … or dressing up in daft costumes.