Closed Rule

Consumer Debt Collection Practices (ANPRM)

Summary

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) might propose new federal rules on how creditors and debt collectors can act to get consumers to pay overdue credit card, medical, student loan, auto or other loans. This decision matters to you if you

  • had an experience with debt collection (good or bad)
  • counsel consumers with overdue debts
  • have a business where you do your own account collection or
  • work in the debt collection industry

Here, you can learn what CFPB is thinking and what it needs to know. You can share information and experiences and discuss ideas with others. At the end of the discussion, CFPB will get a detailed summary and your input will help it decide what to do next. (This phase is for gathering information and brainstorming. The next phase would be where CFPB comes up with specific proposals and asks people to comment again before it decides whether to adopt those proposals as new regulations.)

Consumers and business both have a stake in effective, responsible debt collection practices. Don't be a bystander. Help CFPB make the right decisions about new consumer debt collection regulations. Share what you know and encourage family, friends and coworkers to do the same.

Final Discussion Summary Questions about email, texting & social media in debt collection

Select other topics

Subtopics

1|Communications that must be "in writing"

Final Summary of Discussion

[NOTE that comments reported in this section may have originally been made under another subtopic. Similarly, comments originally made on this subtopic may be reported in another, more relevant section. Information in parentheses comes from commenter response to interest survey; the “servicemember” designation may apply to the commenter or someone in their family. Numbers in parentheses for industry-perspective commenters refer to number of people involved in debt collection in the firm.]

Echoing a theme that industry-perspective commenters have raised throughout the discussion, one debt collector (<20) began the commenting on this topic as follows:

“Having been in collections since 1964, my concern of establishing rules may cause more problems for the consumer. I have seen advocates on both sides suggesting changes to the 1977 law and I agree somewhat with both sides. It is time the law must change and have clarification to the reality that technology has changed, the consumer has changed and collection has changed. It is certain that neither side is going to agree with all of the changes but isn't it time to at least move both to the middle that really serves the consumer? Rules are made on conditions and conditions change, and therefore so must the rule of law. Today we have an outdated law and are seeing state laws change as well and compliance to each is not working.”

Asked by the moderator how new rules should treat new technologies, this commenter responded:

“I believe email and texting would improve communications between both. In my experience consumers today use both more than land line phones. There will be arguments of potential abuse but creating more effective communication is a plus to both sides. In a sampling last year, I used 100 accounts to track and found that only five consumers responded to the initial notice and three of them questioned the balance and/or creditor named. Once telephonic communication began 10 accounts made repayment arrangements. This left 85 accounts or 85% "no result". However, the advice to contact via email on the company web site included in the second notice found 17% contacted via email. While the sampling is very small, it suggested that consumers use email versus verbal contact. I have seen different arguments that suggest a consumer must provide written authorization to be contacted via cell or email but possibly the option to contact via email rather than by phone may help improve communication and possibly reduce lawsuits against the consumer. Clarification is important for each but when one thinks that no contact by the consumer can and usually means another option by the creditor to file a lawsuit is increased, so the reality of today is how consumers communicate and the answer is using cell and emails.”

Several commenters responded very favorably to email communication:

“Any form of written communication should count as a notice in writing. If a debt collector receives a notice via email of contact they should be required to follow it.” (consumer)

“Look, its 2013! Ignoring phone calls is annoying and constantly seeing missed calls is aggravating. Why are bill collectors stuck in ancient times? Text me!! Email me!! Those phone calls are not going to be answered because I work and have kids. Communicating with them would be so much easier if I could text and email these people. Seriously this is not 1950 we live in!!” (victim of ID theft; servicemember)

“I generally prefer e-mail to telephone communication, but you can't be sure the e-mail has reached the person. I would suggest a notice that says, ‘If you don't acknowledge receipt of this e-mail, we'll start phoning you." (62 or older)

“The FDCPA needs to be brought into current times. It is more efficient and effective for collectors for sure. It is the preferred method of communication for consumers without a doubt. Most would certainly rather get an email or text, rather than a phone call. Regular mail is inefficient and becoming more expensive every year and often ignored. It benefits everyone to update to allow using modern technology to communicate with each other.” (debt collector; >50)

“Email communication is a huge advantage for all involved parties. Emails provide consumers with much better tools to control how they are being contacted. First, if treating emails as ‘in writing’ (as they should), disputing a debt or demanding that collectors cease communication is much easier. Second, setting rules to hide collection notices is a powerful tool not available in any other communication medium. 3rd party disclosure is therefore a lesser concern. Third, email delivery is fast, and facilitates an efficient process, where less communications can be made to reach a settlement. Everything is in writing. Fourth, email is significantly less confrontational than phone calls and causes much less stress to recipients. Fifth, email is better than recording in keeping record of communication, making it even harder for collectors to hide acts of non compliance. Email should be allowed, while keeping the sensitive parts of the message (disclosures, personal details etc) hidden - as an attachment or as a link that is part of an email. Yes, email is more cost efficient to collectors - which is why using email should be conditional on collectors not charging the debtors any fees for their payments. The added profitability should be shares with the consumer.” (debt collector; <20)

“I am dealing with a debt collection company who is also a mortgage company. They are having issues separating the two types of services. They are also having an incredible amount of IT (web) problems. Their website is down, or only their staff can see it, or they cannot upload my account information, etc. Other IT issues include their System, which ‘tells them’ it has mailed me documents, but apparently does not really do it. My point is, I am able to capture a lot of this using ScreenShots and electronic communication, providing a very detailed log. I have sent my screenshots of the errors I saw on my account screen to their IT staff, and it may have helped resolve their website issues a few weeks later. I would highly recommend the use of electronic media as a formal way to communicate on both ends.” (consumer)

“My experience has been that people younger than I (a boomer) prefer to communicate electronically (emails, texts & chats). I know that when I was deeply in debt, I would have preferred not to have to speak to a real person. There is a legitimate concern about unencrypted email or the potential for consumers not to consider that others may have access to their email. However, in general, we should encourage communication, however that happens - especially if it is in a form preferred by a particular consumer. I believe that emails, chats & texts should all be considered writings. I don't know how you include all disclosures unless you direct someone to a place where they can read them in plain english.” (debt collector; >50)

However, one consumer commenter had a practical reservation about use of email:

“E mail is good alternative but majority of the time it will go to junk or spam mail and the purpose not served. Regular mail with follow up on email [would] be better.”

Another consumer had far more extensive objections:

“I have a lot of concerns with emails. Email clients have privacy/security settings that do not allow the sender to know if/when an email has been or was received. The problem is that even with these privacy/security settings, senders are able to get around these settings. This is widely used by spammers and hackers. All of the spam experts all say not to open emails that are spam or potential spam, because the spammers are so good at manipulating and getting around the privacy/security settings and force the recipients email client to inform the sender of when/if an email was opened. Also, I do not like the idea that collectors can insert links in emails. The more unscrupulous collectors and unscrupulous employees can insert links that are harmful to the security of the user’s computers and offensive to the recipients (like pornographic material). Just think about how many collectors still (even after all of the lawsuits) use offensive and abusive language over the telephone, just think about what kind of harm these bad apples would be able to do with emails. I also I do not like the emails because of the ease with which collection companies can sell the email lists to marketers. Many decades ago, one of my neighbors was a debt collector. She would tell me that if they couldn’t get money out of the debtors then we make money off of them by selling your address and personal information to marketing companies. I have huge concerns for allowing collectors from using emails. Any rules that allow collectors to use email should come with deliberate care and attention to the privacy/security, materials and content, and the restriction of selling email lists. I also worry about true and accurate identification of emails. Spammers/hackers are able to manipulate how emails are presented and the name of the email address that they send with. Haven’t you ever gotten a spam email that was sent by ‘you’? Just like I worry about the phone call numbers being spoofed there should also be rules restricting collectors are manipulating and spoofing their email addresses.” (consumer; collectors calling for someone s/he doesn’t know)

Even this commenter would apparently permit consumers to elect email contact, although with restrictions:

“‘In writing’ to me, means a letter delivered in the mail. I would also accept an interpretation to mean delivered by email but only on official company letterhead documents. And only if first requested by the debtor and not first initiated by the collector… I think that E-Sign consent should only be valid for the original creditor. And any and every collector who then gets involved must get the debtor to consent E-Sign with them. The reason is because there are some things that I, as a consumer, am comfortable with dealing online or through email with my original creditors, but there are things that I know I would not feel comfortable dealing with online/email with a debt collector. So E-Sign should not be blanket consent for anyone and everyone.”

Another consumer commenter agreed that email should be used only if the consumer elects:

“Owing to the inherently non-private nature of the internet, NOTHING should be sent electronically. There is absolutely nothing wrong with continuing the use of the US Mail. However, the consumer should be free to allow the use of specific electronic communications, if they deem it proper. However, that should be specific; so that a collector cannot use Facebook, twitter, etc; only the specified means.”

And another favored requiring consumer consent in order to avoid the email equivalent of phone number phishing:

“Email: Yes so long as it is not a ‘blind’ email attempt at reaching an individual as it may reach the incorrect party (first.lastname@company.com when it should be first.lastname1@company.com) The down side to this is the inevitable fishing attacks by scammers. Email should therefore be limited to times when the consumer initiates it or formally lists their email with the 3 major reporting agencies as a method of initial contact.” (consumer)

On text messages, a principal objection was cost to the consumer, although at least one commenter worried that texting would proliferate repetitive contact problems:

“Text messages … are cost effective for collectors but at the expense of the debtor/alleged debtor and therefore should not be used.” (consumer, being called for debts of someone s/he doesn’t know)

“Additionally, collectors should not be allow, under ANY circumstance, to use any method which would cost the consumer money. For example, cellphones and texting should be banned completely from calls from collectors.” (consumer)

A debt collector (>50) pointed out that “[T]this is not necessarily true. There are services that text and the sender pays for the text.”

“[T]ext messaging and cell phones should be prohibited as there is not a viable means for the consumer to record the text and bring it into court as documentation if needed. All the issues raised about collectors calling the wrong individual or family members would be 100x worse with texting.”

"No helpful information is conveyed via text."

On the other hand, contact by social media/social networking sites was not favored:

“I do not believe that use of social media should be allowed to initiate or to conduct any legal or other sensitive arrangements or communications to and from debt collectors. There are a couple of things that I’ve noticed about social media: social media is a fad, and an outlet. People use social media as an outlet for the narcissistic/public/storybook/memorable moments side of their lives. And recent evidence shows that fewer teens and young adults are using facebook and twitter. And I am most certain that no social media user would like for their private life to become public life by dealing with a debt collector on facebook. Nobody likes to be in debt and have bill collectors chasing them, so why would anybody want to have bill collectors shaming them or otherwise communicating with them on public platforms such as social media – even if these communications are done in private messages.” (consumer; being called for debts of someone s/he doesn’t know)

“Social networking is can should be used for locating only. I don't believe that communications through social networking is in the best interest for any of the parties involved.” (debt collector; >50)

“Social Media: While the courts have made the rare exception for use of social media as a means of giving notice, not everyone is on every social media platform. I am very internet savvy yet I am not on foursquare, pinterest and several others. On FB, Twitter and others there are several thousand people with my name who may get incorrectly notified.” (consumer)

2|"Receiving" a communications; Inconvenient times & places

Final Summary of Discussion

[NOTE that comments reported in this section may have originally been made under another subtopic. Similarly, comments originally made on this subtopic may be reported in another, more relevant section. Information in parentheses comes from commenter response to interest survey; the “servicemember” designation may apply to the commenter or someone in their family. Numbers in parentheses for industry-perspective commenters refer to number of people involved in debt collection in the firm.]

One consumer who strongly favors email or text communications argued: “Ummm you want to know an annoying way to find out I was in collections... how about 12 voicemails saying they are bill collectors. Finding time to call you is not easy. Many of you work from 9 to 6. That’s when I’m at work. Some of you are different time zones. Why can’t I text or email you and have you text or email me back??? So stone age!” (victim of ID theft; servicemember)

An interchange between a debt collector and consumer commenter revealed some confusion about the level of control recipients have over dealing with email communications:

(commenter 1) “Email rules allows hiding emails and routing them in ways that surpass any other communication method. In addition, since email ‘sender ID’ is easier to demand and maintain, debtors will have an easier time managing what communication they receive, and when. As a result, there is no necessity for forcing specific times of email delivery.” (debt collector; <20)

(commenter 2) “If emails are allowed, they should not be allowed to be sent outside of what is the acceptable time for phone calls. I would like to restrict the time to inside normal business hours for the locale of the debtor, because no business email should ever be sent from the office outside normal business hours. This is basic and normal business etiquette for emails. But a compromise could be made for what is accepted for phone calls. However, I would like to see no emails sent on Sundays. The USPS does not operate on Sundays and neither should emails of a business nature.” (consumer; collectors are contacting about someone s/he doesn’t know)

(commenter 1) “If consumers can receive phone calls on Sundays, there's no reason for them to not accept emails. Controlling which messages you get and how they are routed and presented to you, including what alerts or sounds they make when received, is only possible with email. Email is far superior to any other communication medium.”

A different consumer suggested a general principle: “Texting should follow all rules regarding phone calls. Email should follow rules set in place regarding written, mailed, letters.” (adverse action taken against me for another’s debt)

3|Privacy concerns

Final Summary of Discussion

[NOTE that comments reported in this section may have originally been made under another subtopic. Similarly, comments originally made on this subtopic may be reported in another, more relevant section. Information in parentheses comes from commenter response to interest survey; the “servicemember” designation may apply to the commenter or someone in their family. Numbers in parentheses for industry-perspective commenters refer to number of people involved in debt collection in the firm.]

Again, the consumer commenter who favors email and text communication questioned whether the current situation was better for consumers: “That voicemail which I just [played] is called FOTI. So ridiculous. Why would you do that? So when I play your voicemail someone hears it and I get embarrassed and call you?? What a ridiculous message.” (victim of ID theft; servicemember)

“Email isn't easier to access or view off the debtor's screen than a call (a call's content is actually harder to hide if you receive it among other people), text message or SMS. The way regulation should handle sensitive information is by mandating that some information be an attachment, or in a link provided in the email, rather than the body of an email. If the attachment is encrypted or details are stored on a secured web page, no one will be able to access them. In fact, they will be much better protected than any other information relayed to the debtor. Work emails should be handled differently, much like calls to a work place, which can also be accessed by the employer.” (debt collector; <20).

When questioned by the moderator, this same commenter went on: “Work email can be handled in a FOTI-compliant manner, where the email body doesn't disclose the debt but includes content in a link, that is part of the email but isn't available for viewing by the administrator. Social media and text messages can be handled the same way.”

The same consumer commenter who voiced extensive concerns about email wrote:

“I have a problem with the security of email clients from everyday hackers. Remember the recent Yahoo email accounts that were compromised by hackers? This was a huge concern for many of Yahoo’s email users. Imagine the kind of materials and personal information that hackers would have if SSN’s and/or other sensitive and PII that were included in the emails of debt collectors. I further worry about the uptick in fake collection companies that have been capitalizing of the economic down turn and calling people who may have suffered a loss during this down turn. These downturn victims have been turning money over left and right to fake collection companies who were pretending to be collecting on legitimate debts. Now imagine email accounts getting hacked into and the hackers having access to all of the debt collection information at a debtor might have had setting in their inbox, and then comesalong a new fake debt collection company…aka..the hackers..who then try to collect on a debt. These sorts of things worry me if use of emails could be used.”

The debt collector who favors email responded: “Aren't fake collection companies using letters and phone calls very successfully already?”

“A collector contacting a consumer via email, voice mail, or text message should identify themselves and say what they are calling about (e.g. overdue ABC account) without details of amount, account #, etc. So what if a third party might possibly conclude this person has debt? Without details they still don't know anything. I personally never return any calls about ‘an important business matter’: if you don't tell me who you are or what you are calling about, I consider it spam. If you call in good faith to clear up an outstanding balance for ABC company, then you should say so. It's the ones that are trying to scam consumers that give as little detail as possible in hope that someone panics and fills in the blanks for them.” (consumer)

“Collection email should not be sent to a consumers work place email address. As I stated earlier, email communication should be consumer initiated at this time unless the consumer specifically opts to list an email address of record with the 3 major credit reporting agencies. Email correspondences from a company or collection agency should list the state they are registered in and the registration number for consumer validation purposes. There [are] way too many scam emails to possibly think an email from a collector would be valid.“ (consumer; adverse action taken for another’s debt)

All topics