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 phones & mobile phones in debt collection

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Subtopics

1|Inconvenient times

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 Similarly, comments originally made on this subtopic may be reported in another, more relevant section.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.]

Consumer experiences with calls outside the permitted times:

“I have received calls from debt collectors at 9:30 pm, and I consider this rude. I have also had robocalls early in the morning that woke me up. I am 69 yrs old, and retired, and I sleep late. My health is not good at the moment, so sometimes I have had a bad night - please, please don't wake me up with a robocall.” (62 or older)

FDCPA 805(a)(1) is routinely violated by at least two large banks--Citicards and Wells Fargo. … I live in the Central Time Zone and no matter where these banks are based, they ignore that and call early and late.”

The time zone problem. Among consumer commenters, there seemed to be agreement that the mailing address provided on the application for credit (or other “address of record”) should be the standard creditors must use for determining permissible times – especially since “people move from one locale to another without changing their [cell phone] area codes.” “[T]here should be reasonable time to call and based upon the time zone you LIVE IN not based on the area code of your mobile phone number.” Commenters debated how easy it was to distinguish land lines from cell phones. Some asserted it couldn’t be done; another asserted, “It is pretty easy to distinguish landline from cellphone -- google the number, that tells you.” No industry-perspective commenters addressed this question.

One commenter (creditor collecting own debts; <20; affiliation with credit union) argued for better information collection, initially, by the creditor: “a break-out of phone types should be part of the ‘Solutions ‘. Example Home designated area, Work designated area and Mobile-cell as well. Three separate 'Solutions" therefore giving an increased likelihood of calls to be within what the statue requires.”

Proposed new time restrictions.

  1. Weekends. One consumer questioned why there aren’t different time restrictions for weekends. “This past weekend I was woken by a call from Midland Debt Collection at 8:10am on a Sunday morning on my cell phone.” Another agreed, urging that the hours should be noon-5 pm. One commenter urged that Sunday calls should not be permitted at all, on the same theory as “blue laws” preventing certain businesses from Sunday operation.

  2. Permissible hours. One consumer argued that the permissible calling period should be shortened: Calls should not be permitted before 9 AM and should stop at 8 PM. Another consumer agreed with an earlier cutoff time, telling of his/her experience: “[T]he time that they call is 10pm or 9pm. I believe that is too late to call.” A third consumer suggested: “Creditors should only be allowed to call between the hours of 9am until 7pm local time unless they have written consent (maybe even a web form) that gives them a minimum 3 hour window in which to call.”

Other comments:

(consumer; income beneficiary of an original creditor). “There appears to be a double standard between the debtor and collector. I have received calls after business hours and sometimes even on a Sunday from a mortgage servicer, whom I will not disclose. This particular servicer has even left an anonymous type of flyer (one that can be hung on a doorknob) with instructions to call the specific servicer's customer service phone number; without disclosing the name of the servicer, although I was already familiar with the phone number. I would classify this as mail fraud because it bypassed the mail system. The same scenario with the service of process regarding my old school loan. The service of process bypassed the mail system These are both issues that should be resolved collectively by and among the FCC, FTC and DOJ (not all inclusive). A debt collector can call the debtor from a phone number outside of the collector's company so it won't be included in the company's phone log. If the debtor attempts to return the phone call, the number is either inoperable or not able to receive incoming calls. Collectors may even call a debtor in order to attempt them to give personal information about lowering the interest rate on their credit card (even if the debtor doesn't have a credit card). It is obvious or apparent that there may be a credit card floating around in the debtor's name unknowingly. These are all scenarios I have experienced. We haven't gotten to the subject of sharing a debtor's information among the debtor's financial institution and the financial institution's correspondent institutions and investment advisor affiliates and other business combinations of the debtor (public utilities companies, mortgage servicers, insurance companies, pension fund mgrs, etc...)”

2|Inconvenient 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.]

Few commenters discussed this issue:

One consumer commenter agreed with all items on the proposed list of inconvenient places, and further proposed adding “places that have recently experienced or are experiencing a natural disaster…Debtors who just lost their house, for example, due to a natural disaster should not be bother by a debt collector calling them or mailing them about a 5 year old cell phone debt they forgot to pay. There should be a reasonable exemption time (like maybe 45 days) that prohibits a debt collector from calling or mailing a debtor during/after a natural disaster. I would also add, any places/cities that have been in a state of emergency or any other emergency like an attack or otherwise dangerous/hostile environment like Newtown, Boston, etc. for an reasonable exemption time (like maybe 45 days).”

However, another commenter pointed out how difficult place restrictions have become since the development of cell phones: “In theory this seems like a reasonable policy, but how can collectors know where a debtor is if they are calling his or her cell phone?” (For comments on whether calls to cell phones should be prohibited entirely, see the last subtopic in this post.)

3|Calls at the workplace

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.]

Consumers were generally very negative about calls at the workplace, believing that there was no legitimate purpose for such calls and the primary motivation was harassing and threatening, although one consumer thought that the real problem was frequency, and another would allow the debtor to give consent to receiving such calls:

“This should really stop. No one can talk at work and should not.” (62 or older)

“Calling a debtor at work is counter-intuitive; if collectors are continuously calling someone at work, other employees may report it to the debtor's supervisor. Most companies have established rules about receiving or making personal calls from company or cell phones during an employee's working hours. If a collector or creditor calls a debtor on his/her cell phone and is informed that the debtor is at work, the call should be terminated. No calls to employers should be allowed as this jeopardizes the debtor's job. How does that help in debt collection? It doesn't.”

“Calls to the workplace should not be permitted at all. Harassing the consumer at his her/workplace can come to the attention of the employer and get the consumer fired or limit advancement. The collector then does not get paid because of the collector's own egregious conduct.” (consumer; no debts but being contacted because of debts of another after phone number change; 62 or older)

“Unscrupulous debt collectors use this tactic trying to force people into agreeing to repay a debt. The threat of debt collection calls at work is a powerful incentive to repay a debt.”

“Calling someone's work is clearly and without dispute intended to embarrass and annoy. It is never acceptable.”

“The entire point of collectors calling debtors at work is to intimidate and cause fear of loss of employment to the debtor and the practice should be outlawed unless the debtor opts in to receive calls there. It’s well known that companies like Sallie Mae will continue to call debtors at work even after being told not to.”

“Many states have a judgment law where a consumer with over a certain amount of judgments may be terminated from employment. Having a collector call at work just seems to be another way to break down a consumer and put them at a disadvantage. A friend has mentioned to me receiving collection calls at work for one of his employees where the collector identified himself as ‘Officer’ My friend told the collector never to call again and that it's illegal to impersonate law enforcement.”

“People get fired for personal calls at work. I worked at a place where employee phone call was recorded and randomly monitored due to the sensitivity of our work. And every now and then an employee would get caught making/taking a personal phone call and would be fired with no questions asked. Work is not the place for personal business.” (consumer; collectors calling for someone s/he doesn’t know)

“[M]any people do not work in an office, so a message would have to be left with a secretary. This is letting someone else know of a debt who should not be privy to that information. The ONLY reason these companies have to calling someone at work is to publicly shame the person into paying. It is the modern version of putting someone in stockades and throwing fruit at them, or a modern scarlet letter. If there is another phone number on an application, that is the one that needs to be used. If there is an address on the application, that is what needs to be used. Calls to someone's work are off limits PERIOD! There is not way for the collection agency or the government regulation body to GUARANTEE that no one besides the consumer gets the information when someone's work is called." (consumer; debt in collection of another person who used my phone number)

“Calls at work are too intrusive. Most companies, like mine, do not allow personal calls. Not all people have M-F 9-5 office jobs. If you work in a warehouse, a production line or as a cashier, you cannot take calls and it can cause issues with a supervisor. As someone who has answered a company phone, you can tell a caller that the employee cannot take calls or that they don't work there, but that caller will repeatedly call back. My position on this is simple, if the creditor does not call to confirm employment before credit is issued, they should not call after the debt is in collection. If they confirm employment then they could also inquire about the communication policy. Personally, I am in a position of constant public contact with no available phone with me and it would be hard to impossible to have a phone conversation without leaving my work area which would cause issues with management for my job.”

“When a debt collection company (Bayview) took over servicing of my mortgage, I began receiving phone calls at work and on my cell phone about my mortgage payments even thought they were not late. This included robo-calls. I was told this was 'standard' and to ignore these phone calls, but I really got angry and filed a BBB complaint in the state of one office. I was never late with one payment, and our mortgage was not in debt collection. Bayview may be a debt collector, but they need to keep those services separate from their mortgage services. Calling people at work, robo-calls, and harassing them when they do not have delinquent debts should be against the law.”

“I don’t mind the calls to work. My problem is the frequency. The reality is that I owe the bill and I know it. But I don’t think they should call my job unless I don’t call them back. Text me and call me first and give me a few days. Then call my job but not every day.” (ID theft victim; service member)

“Most companies have a strict ‘NO PERSONAL CALLS’ policy; hence the act should include a clause that ‘...unless specifically allowed, in writing, by the debtor, a collector is barred from attempting to contact a debtor at his/her place of employment.’ “

One consumer wrote about a related problem of mail: “I once had a debt collector send collection letters to my work address. They had my home address. I think this should also be prohibited. Who gets personal mail sent to them at work?”

“The CFPB should ban workplace calls completely. Consumers provided a home phone number when they take on the debt and that should be the number they call to collect it. Communicating by registered/certified letter should also be the alternate method not workplace calls.”

“They should not be allowed to call people at work or on their cell phones.”

“Work is for work, not personal debt business. I personally don't get calls at work, but I can see how embarrassing it would be and how quickly the company would probably fire. Then how would the debt collector get their money? No work phone calls period, should be the law.” (consumer being called for someone s/he doesn’t know)

On the other hand, industry-perspective commenters pointed out the problems with an absolute ban on workplace calls, although at least one thought that workplace calls should be allowed only after other contact efforts had failed:

“I don't think limiting the time to call a person at work is an option. Everyone works at different times. Some people move [or] change cell phone numbers, so call[ing] them at work is sometimes the only option. . . Most people have information about where they work somewhere on the web. Would a customer prefer to be called at work, or have a message left with a relative for them?” (debt collector; >50)

“Creditors should be entitled to require consumers to provide them with a contact address and phone number and to provide updates while debts are outstanding. If consumers do not do so, it should be fair for creditors (and collectors) to skip-trace or to reach them at other numbers. Collectors should not be allowed to make calls to work until they have made multiple attempts to contact a consumer at home.” (debt collector; >50)

“As Director I can clearly in good faith state that as we service our potential losses and my Team make collection calls, contact is generally made at work place as well. Let me also state that many of the call backs are made from Members at work as well. It all depends on the employer and the work conditions surrounding the consumer.” (creditor collecting own debts at credit union; <20)

On the issue of knowing a particular workplace’s policies, one collector (>50) pointed out: “It's hard to know what [workplaces] ‘prefer’ no personal calls, and a list could be an option, but most people work for smaller companies and the lists will cater to the large companies. I don't see a problem if a debt collector calls a customer at work if they don't know prior of any inconvenience.”

One consumer argued that work numbers should not be required on credit applications; this “would prevent calls at work, otherwise, potential exist to cause consumer grief, harassment, discrimination, hostile work environment or other negative action(s) at place of employment.” (servicemember)

As in other posts, some commenters thought the problem was under-enforcement rather than the basic legal rules:

“The problem is enforcement. When collectors are notified to stop calling the consumer's workplace, they refuse to obey the law that requires them to stop. Reporting violations to the regulators is futile, because nothing is ever done by way of enforcement and the collectors know this. Put teeth into enforcement.” (consumer; no debts but being contacted because of debts of another after phone number change; 62 or older)

4|Voicemail and answering machine messages

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.]

Responses to the 7 possible solutions to the dilemma of collector identification/mini-Miranda vs. debtor privacy were as follows. [Also, see comments on collector use of alias or blocking caller ID or true calling number in “Caller ID”].

  1. The message identifies the consumer by name but doesn’t say anything about debt collection.

    “Possibility #1 seems like the best way to achieve the FDCPA goals of not harassing or abusing the debtor AND not disclosing the existence of a debt to 3rd parties. Once the collector has verified that they are speaking to the debtor, they can (and should) give the mini-Miranda disclosure.” (debt collection law firm; <20)

    ”Honest, respectful and open communication between consumers and collectors should be the goal. If there are too many roadblocks to making contact with a debtor, more consumers will point from the same collector, then there should be penalties. Professional collectors do not want to waste time calling a wrong number.” (debt collector; >50)

    “If a message is left, 3 things need to happen: ( 1) the debt collector needs to not block/spoof their caller id [see next subtopic]; (2) a call back phone number needs to be left in the message and it needs to match the phone number shown on the caller id; and (3) when the debtor calls the call back number, a recording needs to immediately state the mini miranda warning before a connection to a live representative is made.” (consumer; collectors calling looking for someone s/he doesn’t know)

    Two consumer commenters seemed to favor this approach, yet their comments were ambiguous about how the caller should (or should be permitted to) identify him/herself: “[Creditors] should be able to leave a message for a specific debtor, the name of their company and request a call-back at a specified number. When a consumer returns this type of call, the collector or debtor should be required to give them the mini-Miranda warning. There is no need for collectors to leave messages revealing the nature of their calls. The Health Information Privacy and Portability Act prohibits disclosure of protected information to unauthorized parties and the same should apply to debt collectors. Most landlines and cell phones have caller ID technology ; if the number comes up showing a toll-free number or an unknown caller, many consumers will let such calls go to voice mail. Voice mail messages need to be discreet. No one needs their kids hearing messages from debt collectors. Anyone returning a call regarding a voice mail message should be informed by a live customer service rep of the mini Miranda warning. This should be done only after the person returning the call to the collector verifies his or her identity as the debtor.”

    “I think it's far better for a collector to leave a voicemail (with clear identification of the caller and callee) than to call the same number 50 times without leaving a message. The rules should encourage this rather than frustrate it. So, I would favor option #1, with the mini-Miranda deferred until the collector is sure he is talking to the right person.” (consumer; continuous calls for other people’s debts)

  2. The message identifies the consumer by name and asks that he/she go to a particular website where he/she could read the mini-Miranda warning.

    "
    Option #2 seems like a good idea, but very few people will actually go to the website AND an eavesdropping 3rd party could go to the website and figure out that the call was regarding a debt.” (debt collection law firm; <20)

    “I don't like #2 because if they were to start telling consumers to a certain website, that opens the door for spammers/hackers to increase virus infections by simply doing the same thing. Just calling every phone number in the phone book and telling the consumer [to] navigate to a certain website and then infect their computer. True, spammers/hackers could do this now. I meant more like, if this rule were implemented and became sort of a common identifier: like ‘Oh, I know what this call is about. It’s a debt collector. A debt collector will always tell you to go to a website.’ Then I worry that spammers/hackers could take advantage of this common identifier and somehow infect computers when a debtor does visit whatever website is left in the message.” (consumer; debt collectors calling for someone s/he doesn’t know)

  3. The message identifies the consumer by name, but only when the answering machine or voicemail greeting gives the first and last name of the consumer and no one else.

    No one addressed this option.

  4. The message states it is for the consumer by name, and asks that anyone who isn't the consumer (or his/her spouse) either stop listening or delete the message.

    “As most Courts have stated, # 4 (FOTI message) is just rubbish. Furthermore, I would urge the CFPB to disregard almost any case or rationale that has come out of that circuit.” (debt collection law firm; <20)

    “A simple request for a call back is the best. ‘Foti’ messages serve no one. It's clear to everyone that the call is from a collector and 3rd parties are unnecessarily inconvenienced.” (debt collector; >50)

    “Answering machine messages that should have removal information before any message script is left by the collector. Currently it's this message is for ________, if you're not __________ please do not listen. Have a toll free number provided up front where the number is removed from calls without further questions. “ (consumer)

    One consumer strongly criticized any approach other than Foti: “This is unreal. Reading your ‘if there is a new federal rule regarding messages...’ it seems like this agency is trying very hard to make it easy to get around the court decision which is one of the few that protected consumers, and they also seem to try to protect the company that abuse the phone because what these people do is harassment. They know it, and they know how to do it. They've gotten away with it for so long because they answer to no one, you've put the onus on the consumer to have to sue a debt collector who violates the law. This is unreal.”

  5. The message indicates that the call is from a debt collector but doesn't identify the consumer by name.

    “While possibility # 5 (sometimes called a Zortman message) IS a workable solution to the FOTI dilemma and comes the closest to complying with the competing sections of FDCPA, it seems much more embarrassing to a debtor who's roommate/spouse/child etc. hears the message” (debt collection law firm; <20)

    “Oh my goodness why do they disclose they are bill collectors on voicemails? That is insane. My mom heard one when I was playing my voice messages at home. They should only disclose through texts. Texts aren’t something that will be heard by others. That long message saying they are collectors and trying to collect a debt is ridiculous!!” (consumer; victim of ID theft; service member)

    “If they leave a message they should be required to leave the name of the company, the name of the representative, the number to call, and a reference number.” (consumer)

  6. The collector leaves a message that doesn't say anything about debt collection, but only after the consumer consents to receive messages without the mini-Miranda warning

    “I also like the suggestion from #6 that the debtor can ‘opt out’ of the mini-miranda warning in subsequent communications. [This commenter favored #1] In the real world, once a collector & debtor have spoken there is not much chance that the debtor does not know the purpose of subsequent communications or that the collector is calling to collect.” (debt collection law firm; <20)

  7. Collectors can’t leave messages.

    "Recorded messages are of no benefit to the collector or the consumer. The recorded message generally leaves an 888 number that is of no use to the consumer in even reaching the collector who initially called. The recorded messages function as a form of harassment, and even though the law requires they not leave information regarding the alleged debt, they do. Collection calls are harassing in nature, especially as most people do not know they must put a request to cease communication in writing and collectors are reluctant to give the identifying information required. I would ask that such recorded messages be barred, especially since they are already the subject of extensive abuse by collectors."

“Please consider robo-calls when developing rules for this section. … I understand the need to protect privacy, but this is not the answer. The messages left for me on my cell phone could have been returned by anyone with access to the cell phone (family members, snoopy friends) and information on a supposedly late payment would be disclosed by the robo-caller. Robo-calling does not have the consumer's privacy in mind.”

Even more information about the collector. One consumer commenter argued that the basic identification requirement of mini-Miranda did not give consumers enough information:

"Merging all types of debt collectors into the same introductory phrase is actually more confusing to the consumer than knowing the actual standing of the debt collector by how they introduce themselves. Maybe it is time to better delineate who it is that is calling. Instead of the most commonly used phrase of 'This is a Debt Collector calling'... How about, 'This is a Debt Collector calling on behalf of (name of credit card)...', OR, 'This is a (name of credit card company) debt collector calling'... Example, 'This is a debt collector calling on behalf of a Bank of America debt...', or, if the debt collector is actually employed by Bank of America, 'This is a Bank of America Debt Collector calling...'. And then there is the nuance of a debt that has or has not been sold to the first debt collector, perhaps whether the debt has been sold should be stated upfront as well. Perhaps 'This is a third party debt collector...' should be used for debt that has been sold twice, and so on."

Big Picture. Two commenters stepped back from the specific proposals to make more global comments. One, a consumer (common last name bombarded by collection calls; 62 and older), shared her experience to suggest that none of the options are perfect:

“I am an experienced recipient of collection calls. As I have explained in another post here, I live in a fairly large metro area, and whenever anyone with my very common last name and first initial skips town without paying his/her bills, I'm the one who gets the calls from the debt collectors. Here are some of my thoughts on these calls, and I have received dozens:

“I know that a call about ‘an important business matter,’ is a call about a debt. I have received many of these kinds of calls. Whenever a debt collector calls me and leaves a message without a name, it doesn't take me very long to figure out that the call is from a debt collector. If the debt collector calls and leaves a name, that debt collector is revealing to me, an unrelated third party, that the individual has a debt in collection. I consider this to be a violation of the spirit of the FDCPA if not the letter. Whenever a debt collector calls me, I am burdened with the knowledge that I now know the name of someone else who has a debt in collection.

“I've gotten any number of the calls described in #4 telling me not to listen if I'm not the named individual. The big problem with that is that, once again, the name of a debtor is being revealed to me, and then there's the added dilemma of the fact that now my phone number has been programmed into a debt collector's robo dialer. When that happens, the calls continue to come. I always disobey the instructions and listen to the message. I then call the debt collector to report a case of mistaken identity. It's the only way to stop the calls.

“In all the collection calls I have gotten over the years, I have received only one message with the "’mini-Miranda’ warning. When I called the debt collector to report another case of mistaken identity I was connected with an individual in a call center in India. After I told the woman she had the wrong person, I thanked her for the ‘mini-Miranda’ and she hung up on me. I don't have any answers, just lots of experience. I hope someone finds this information useful.”

The second, an industry-perspective commenter (debt collection law firm; <20) who evaluated several of the proposals, concluded:

“Ultimately, I just want CFPB to set forth SOME/ANY ‘safe harbor’ provisions on these types of issues such that we can stop guessing how to be in compliance. The idea of ‘private policing’ has done nothing to actually change the way collectors behave. Instead, it has created a cottage industry for former slip-and-fall attorneys who can now extort collection agencies (or attorneys) who simply cannot afford to risk paying out $50,000 in atty fees if their ‘bona fide error’ defense turns out to be insufficient. Essentially, a well-intentioned collector has no choice but to either pay these extortionists or risk bankruptcy.

“These proposed rules are the first thing I've seen come out of FDCPA that might actually make a difference in the way that collections are handled. Therefore, I encourage CFPB to actually follow through with providing guidance to collectors instead of spending so much time, web space and effort teaching debtors how to sue collectors.”

An exchange between a consumer and an industry-perspective commenter on the larger question of how the collector identifies itself revealed frustration with the current law on both sides:

(consumer) “The letter I received just said this communication is for the purpose of collecting a debt. First, it was supposed to be a ‘validation’ letter, but they don't bother to validate they jump the gun. Communication is always the best way to avoid confusion, so I don't think it would be a hardship on anyone to state clearly this is a debt collection agency/company -- why use euphemisms. And then to state unless such and such is paid by (whatever time frame is legal) this will be placed in collection. I believe there is some rule now to that effect, what I think the problem is, it is not handled consistently. Each of these many debt collectors do their own thing. Some are better at communicating than others. Some deliberately do NOT communicate, for deliberate reasons.” (victim of ID theft)

(industry commenter) “Your point is understandable; however the statement you referred to is known as the mini-Miranda. This statement is a requirement in a debt collector's initial communication (and in some states every communication). Typically, the validation verbiage is included in a sheet of its own with several other disclosures a debt collector is required to provide. ..The laws surrounding contacting consumers and the information required to be given is quite stringent, the problem is the channels which are directly regulated by the law are outdated. The primary law that regulates a debt collector was written in the 70's and did not directly define that is thrown around all too often, harassment (among others). Because of this, if a debt collector sends a letter and makes a phone call, he may very ‘well be held accountable in a court of law for ‘harassment". Most collectors settle out of court as defending a suit as frivolous as the one described above would cost much more than settling with a consumer.” (debt collector; >50)

Frustration also appeared in an exchange among 2 industry-perspective commenters and 2 consumer-perspective commenters:

(commenter 1) “Bottom line...the new rules that the CFPB comes up with need to be FAIR to BOTH the debt collector and the consumer. While there are collection agencies that abuse consumers and the system, and need to be dealt with, most agencies are simply trying to help collect monies due their clients from consumers who have chosen not to pay. There could be a variety of reasons that they've chosen not to pay; both legit and not legit. Currently, the playing field favors consumers; more specifically 'consumer attorneys'. Collection agencies can get sued for leaving a message for a consumer WITHOUT disclosing that they owe a debt because uninformed judges have arbitrarily decided that a message that does not disclose any information about a debt is a communication. This completely contradicts current FDCPA law, however, that specifically states that a 'communication' means directly conveying information regarding a debt. They can also get sued by leaving a 'Foti' message, should that message be overheard by a 3rd party. 'Foti' is NOT law, but rather another judge's uneducated (on FDCPA) opinion / ruling that basically states that 'messages need to give complete information about a consumer debt and that the call is from a collection agency, after allowing unrelated 3rd parties the opportunity to step away from the message retrieval device. This sounds silly, but it's true. Predatory consumer attorneys use this lack of definition in the law to perform 'Sue and Settle' techniques on collection agencies that make call attempts in one of the above stated procedures; agencies can get sued for trying to contact debtors by both methods. What's worse, and I personally know consumers that this has happened to, is that these 'supposed' consumer attorneys aren't really acting on behalf of the consumers that they represent. They use these consumers simply as a 'vehicle' to sue an agency where their whole goal is to get thousands of SETTLEMENT dollars in attorney fees as they can while only providing the alleged 'wronged' consumer several hundreds of dollars. They use this 'SUE & SETTLE' business model as a way of extorting money from agencies because they know that an agency would have to spend $30-50K to defend themselves. And, while the agency may be successful in defending themselves, many don't have the monies to spend defending themselves knowing that they cannot recoup these fees & costs from the consumer attorney that filed the frivolous lawsuit in the first place. Furthermore, somewhere along the way, another uninformed judge made a ruling (NOT LAW) stating that agencies can be sued under TCPA by attempting to contact a consumer about their debt by an auto-dialer calling the consumer's cell phone. Several things are wrong with this. First, if you read the TCPA in its entirety, it was meant to stop TELEPHONE SOLICITORS (people trying to sell consumers something), that didn't have any prior relationship with the consumer. Collection agencies are not trying to sell anything. Collection agencies, via BA Agreements, act as an extension of the business office for those creditors that DO HAVE A PRIOR RELATIONSHIP with consumers. As such, the TCPA does not apply. However, judges that are ignorant on the law make their opinion into a ruling which opens the doors for these predator attorneys to use their 'Sue & Settle' techniques. In conclusion, the CFPB needs to specifically define HOW collection agencies can lawfully contact, and work with, those consumers that owe their clients’ money. The CFPB needs to 'throw out' ignorant rulings by judges who do not understand the law. The laws have to be equal on both sides. If not, the CFPB will simply provide consumers a legal avenue to steal from those businesses that they do credit business with by not paying their bills and, subsequently, these businesses not being able to hire debt collectors to help them get the money that they're owed.” (debt collector; <20)

(commenter 2) “Very well said, agree 100%” (debt collection law firm; 20-50)

(commenter 3) “You have some valid points about the confusing Foti rulings, but I think you are wrong about the TCPA. This law has always applied to debt collectors, politicians, and even charities with respect to cellular phones. And it's not just one judge who has ruled in this way. The FCC and the courts have repeatedly affirmed it.” (consumer; continuous calls for other peoples’ debts)

(commenter 4) “I have not encountered a situation in which the bill collector is hired by a business for many decades now. Usually the debt collector has bought the debt, usually for pennies on the dollar, from the original creditor. I also disagree that the law provides a way for consumers to steal from businesses. If anything, I would say we have become in danger of reverting to the tyranny of Dickens' time, where a person and that person's family, including children, would be imprisoned for debt. Surely we can agree on reasonableness when it comes to how we treat each other, whether debtor or creditor?” (researcher)

(commenter 1) “I have not heard of anyone in the US being imprisoned for their debt. I have been in the business for 20 years and rest assured, while there are 'debt buyers', the majority of agencies are contingency based collections.”

5|Caller ID

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.]

In response to CFPB’s request for information about current use of caller ID by consumers, one person responded: “I love caller ID. Also use my call blocking on my phones with Verizon.” (consumer; 62 or older). It appears from the comments that follow that many consumers have, and value, these services.

All consumers who addressed the issue objected to collectors disguising or blocking their caller ID, or showing a different number than the number from which the call is being placed. Many were quite vehement, seeing the practice as deceptive and misleading. This seemed to be a far more important issue than the possible privacy invasion of having someone else see the information—only a small number distinguished between showing an accurate number and showing a (non-alias) name:

“Blocking caller ID information is disingenuous to say the least. Most consumers won't respond to blocked numbers or ID's anyway. Collectors should be required to identify themselves and to provide caller ID information that identifies them. Most people who cannot pay their bills are aware of the problem, so being reminded under false pretenses is more of an annoyance than a solution to the problem.”

“At least in Illinois there is a Caller ID spoofing law [but I] still get calls every day with false/unintelligible called ID listed and no message left. If a collector is calling from a different number than the one they are displaying on Called ID, that should be not allowed. [This] does not allow the consumer to block those calls since the number displayed is not the one actually calling.” When a debt collector (>50) responded, “You shouldn't have to feel that you have to block a call. You should just answer and ask them not to call you,” the original commenter replied: “Picking up just lets them know this is the prime time to make future calls since you're home at this time. Account keeps changing hands, repeat.”

“I need a number to show. Stop blocking your number and stop using 800 numbers. To me 800 numbers belong to sales or solicitors. I want to know I have a debt in collections. So don’t hide. Geesh!” (servicemember)

“A collector's toll-free number is the ideal number to display on Caller ID, since it allows the call to be returned from anywhere without incurring long-distance charges. It also lets the recipient know right away that it is not a personal call and is probably not from a local company. I'd much rather see an 800 number than a spoofed local number for a company that is really 1000 miles away (or in India). This spoofing is clearly a false and deceptive practice that is barred by the FDCPA, but still it occasionally happens.”

“It doesn't just ‘occasionally’ happen. It happens all the time. Those of us with common names are sitting ducks for these scumbags. I am constantly harassed by collectors looking for someone else. Call blocking programs do not work out of area, so call-blocking is no protection whatever.” (62 and older)

“Collection Agency's' should be REQUIRED by law to show their phone number when calling a debtor. Most if not all come up ‘unknown.’ What are they trying to hide? If they are a legitimate company then they should have no problem showing their number. If I call them, and my number is blocked, I can't get thru until I unblock my number. If they truly are legitimate, they should want to do things fair and above board.”

“The use of false information, INCLUDING the name and/or number, in caller ID should be illegal. Period”

“Debt Collectors should be barred from ‘spoofing’ their phone numbers.”

“I do NOT answer any calls that have ‘unknown caller’ or ‘unknown’ in the ID. If you can't show your name in the ID line, then something is not right with your company, or you have something to hide. Remember, YOU are calling ME, so in that sense, phone calls are an invasion of my privacy. I don't have any obligation to answer any calls that I don't want to. There should be a regulation that requires debt collection agencies to identify themselves when making phone calls.”

“They will just continue to call. Not answering does not stop the constant calls. They need to be required to identify themselves accurately so the consumer has at least a fighting chance to speak with them. In my case I have no debts of my own but am constantly harassed for other people's debts because I have a fairly common last name. They just start calling everyone with the same last name as their actual debtor.” (62 or older)

“If I am paying for the minutes on my phone, which I do, then I should be able to choose who's call I do and do not want to answer. When it comes up 'unknown,’ how do I know it's a Collection Agency, a telemarketer trying to sell me vacation homes, cruise lines trying to sell me a cruise, someone wanting to offer me a better mortgage rate, etc... Every call I answer deducts time from my minutes and that is NOT fair to me. I now block ALL ‘unknown, withheld & private’ calls. If they truly are legitimate and want to talk to me, press 1 to unblock, just like I have to.”

“Maybe not their name. But their phone number should show up on caller id. Their real phone number. So that when you miss their phone call and try to call them back, it should go to the real company. And not say something like ‘the call can not be completed as dialed.’ I mean, what is the point in that. Some debtors can't get to their phone before it goes to the answering machine and if the collectors don't leave a message, the debtor will try to call back. But then the call can't be completed when you try to call back. So, really what was the point of the call? Many debtors would just assume it was a scam call. Increasing Right Party Contacts should be the goal. And that goal can only be reached if the real phone number is showing up on caller iD.”

“It should be a FDCPA violation to spoof a debt collector's phone number on the caller ID. Either no number on the caller ID or a number linked back to the collection agency.” (commenter works for a legal services organization). When asked by the moderator how to balance privacy concerns, this commenter responded: “Just the phone number should show up on the called ID. The consumer can google the number and figure out if they want to talk or call back the number. More importantly, it gives attorneys the ability to make FDCPA claims against collection agencies since we know who is calling.”

“Debt collectors should not be allowed to alter their caller ID information. They call misrepresenting themselves as ‘Process Server’ inquiring information about another person's debt. This prevents the consumer from reporting the debt collector for violating consumer protection laws because a false identify was used.” (someone in family has debt in collection)
Another commenter responded: “Yes, that just happened to me today, someone called trying to locate a friend saying they were a ‘courier service.’" (researcher)

“I've gotten calls from the same collector who will use a toll free, then a number with an area code, then that number will be changed by a digit. Google the number. That is so helpful. It will tell you the company that is calling. It was always the same one. I agree this is wrong, misleading, a fraudulent way to deal with people.” (victim of ID theft)

" I have caller id and the only information that appears is an 888 number. There is no other identifying information. If I pick up the phone, I am told to wait for an important message. These robocalls make it impossible to know who is calling me, and I have yet been able to stay on the telephone for the lengthy wait until an agent answers the phone. It is an unproductive and harassing process. Debt collectors should absolutely be barred from disguising their identities by altering their phone numbers. This practice is deceptive by nature and confusing to the consumer. ... The most productive scenario would be, if the collector is truly attempting to reach a consumer (vs. harass them to death) to obligate them to provide full contact information including a means of contacting the collector that will be answered by a natural person within a certain time period."

Two consumers told more extended personal stories:

“It is mind-boggling that this has even been allowed to continue for so long. This should have been addressed years ago! Stop allowing the company to change names to continue poor practices. Stop allowing the companies to use hundreds of phone numbers to try to trick someone. Stop letting them block numbers so caller ID only shows ‘unknown’ or even 000-0000. Force these companies to properly identify themselves when asked! Debt collectors have been calling my cell phone for 5 years trying to collect a debt from someone I have never heard of. This random person put down my phone number as a contact on a loan, defaulted on that loan, and now I am the one being harassed because of a stranger! When called and they identify who they are looking for, I used to say that I did not know the person then try to ask for the name of the company, but they had already hung up on me and would then call again later. So then, after they ask for the person, I immediately ask for the name and address for the company. They would ask again for ‘name, I would ask again for the name and address for the company. They would ask again for ‘name,’ I would ask again for the name and address for the company. It becomes a shouting match, they say ‘I'll just call back later when you are in a more “information giving” mood,’ and hang up on me. There was/is no recourse, protection, or help for people like me. The company won't give me their name and I don't have a phone number (because it is ‘unknown’) to give to the regulating bodies to report harassing behavior. I have no way to stop these people from calling my cell phone! It is my phone! I pay the bill, not them! They should have no ‘RIGHT’ as they put it to call a cell phone!” (consumer being contacted for debt of a person who used his/her phone number)

“I was harassed for months by a collector who used robo-calls 5 and 6 times a day and blocked its caller ID, for what turned out to be five different debts, none of which were mine. Robo-calls were not answered; if I picked up, nobody was there, and no messages were ever left. The blocked caller ID was ‘1 Unavailable,’ which is designed to outfox call-blocking from the recipient's end, and makes it impossible to identify the caller using reverse number lookups and the like. One day I picked up and finally there was someone on the other end, so I was able to figure out who was calling, although they were very reluctant to say who they were. I then looked them up on the internet and got a phone number for them. I repeatedly stated I was not the person they were looking for, but they refused to stop calling. I finally got an attorney and after months of the attorney bickering with them, I did get a small money settlement. This was occurring when I was getting chemotherapy treatment for cancer and was very ill. My life was hell for months because of these practices. Collectors should be prohibited from concealing either their identity or their call-back numbers. This happened because I had moved and was assigned a new number that evidently had belonged to a number of individuals who had outstanding debts. I was afraid to change my number again because it would just usher in a new batch of collectors. There should also be much, much, much stiffer monetary penalties for violations. The guilty party in the above scenario was a national collection agency with huge annual revenues; the piddly amount I was eventually paid was to them a tiny fraction of one cent compared to their annual revenues. I just happen to be an attorney myself, and ran their name on Pacer--they had been sued over and over in state and federal court and had actually paid million dollar fines to state attorneys general--also just a small cost of doing business for them compared to their enormous annual revenues. We need much, much stiffer penalties. These people are cyber bullies with absolutely no scruples. At the very least they should be required to identify themselves on caller ID. with a legitimate callback number, and robo-calls should be made illegal.”

One debt collector (>50) agreed that “it should be illegal … for as agency to change its caller id.”

Only one other industry-perspective commenter discussed this issue. For this commenter, the privacy requirements of current law were dispositive: “Let's keep it as simple as possible. Based on 3rd party disclosure statue, blocking the ID benefits the consumer. One never knows who is at the other end of the phone.” (creditor collecting own debts, apparently credit union; <20)

Underenforcement was again raised as an issue by consumers who were extremely angry:

“There are currently no ‘teeth’ in the enforcement mechanism as well. Right now filing complaints with the regulators does absolutely nothing except get you into some database but nothing is ever done about violations. Requiring accurate identification of the collector with a working call-back number should be the bare minimum. At least that way the consumer has a fighting chance of at least talking to them and trying to get erroneous calls stopped. Right now government enforcement is non-existent and completely worthless.” (consumer; no debts but gets calls for another after change in phone number; 62 or older)

“No matter how you slice this conversation, phone calls are the biggest abuse. You can have rules and do about the time, but they are ignored. Until you or the FTC creates rules that fine these people -- and not put the burden on the consumer to sue -- this abuse will go on... The most abusive things debt collectors do are with their phones. They block their numbers still. They use various numbers; they mislead their identities. THE PROBLEM is the onus is on the hapless consumer to get legal redress. Not good enough. You need to create fines and actually impose them. That will stop this phone abuse. They call at work, always will have some excuse. Oh, this was the only number we had. And call after hours. Well we are in California. Please. Be honest, this is an outrage what these companies have done, and nobody has minded the store on them. Never should the onus be on the consumer to get this to stop. You have to find a lawyer who thinks a whopping $1,000 is worth suing over. Please. You have rigged this system in favor of the sharks, and that is why these sleazy companies have proliferated and have grown more and more egregious in their actions. What you need to do is 1) no more recorded calls. 2) call from one number and 3) as soon as someone says stop calling, STOP. If there is any call beyond that, they get fined. Agreed, people will have to write a letter because none of these companies will admit they were told to stop calling. But they do receive the letters, which should go to a physical address and to a person, not just a vague company name. Last, stop allowing these bad companies to change their names. They get in trouble, they change their names, and go on doing terrible things under another name. Just look online at some of these companies and how many names they've gone through. The reason this got so bad is nobody has been looking out for the consumer.” (victim of ID theft)

“Stop putting the burden of stopping this entire industry on the consumer (who has no teeth or way to be sure the judgment is being enforced) THAT IS THE JOB OF CONSUMER PROTECTION! It's in your name! You are there to PROTECT the CONSUMER.“ (consumer being contacted for debt of a person who used his/her phone number)

One consumer requested:

“Can there be a national repository to report abusive phone calls from debt collectors that masked (fake and ‘spoof’) their caller ID? I got a brand new phone number a few years ago and it obviously previously belonged to someone who is delinquent on their bills because I get calls everyday from debt collectors looking for the person who had my phone number before me. No matter how many times I tell them they have the wrong number, they don’t care and they just keep calling and they call from spoofed phone numbers.”

6|Repetitive calls and robo-calls

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.]

Consumer commenters were intensely engaged on the issue of repetitive calling, with some of the most vehement being commenters who had been contacted for the debt of someone else. Perhaps reflecting the new technological reality that many people have mobile phones as their principal (or only) phone, the issue of predictive calling to cell numbers was often intertwined with the more general question of call automation and frequency. Industry commenters, for their part, saw predictive calling as a valid and efficient collection technique, and felt that current legal limits on calling mobile phones were unrealistic and outdated. Other comments related to these questions can be found as well in the next subtopic, “Limiting collector communications; avoiding mobile calls”.

Consumer comments: Unsurprisingly, consumers who had been repetitively called for others’ debts were extremely frustrated, and looking for strong legal protections. Some consumers who were correctly targeted felt that repetitive calling was harassing and unproductive, especially in the case of people who had good reasons for being unable to pay their debts. This topic attracted several older consumers.

“The problem is that cell phone customers have to pay for the minutes that are used. I have prepaid cell service and debt collectors are calling me all the time looking for someone else who I do not know. This is the problem. Harassment to the cell phone owner and harassment that the cell phone owner must pay for.”

“I still vividly remember receiving automated calls every Saturday morning in college insisting that I settle a debt under someone else's name. It was a case of mistaken identity, and eventually I sorted it out by tracking down the collection agency and calling them during business hours. This was a tremendous inconvenience, however. I strongly support limitations on robocalls, on total call volumes, and ask that you consider creating a complaint process for harassing or mistargeted calls. Collection agencies should face financial sanctions for misbehavior, payable to the target of their abuse.”

“I do not think that answering 97% of the calls from an automated dialer within two seconds is a solution to my problem. . . From my perspective as a frequent recipient of robo calls from debt collectors, the problem is a lack of ownership and impersonality of the collection agency when the debt is not assigned to one collector to handle. Years ago when a collector would call me, it would always be the same person. Now it is not. Assign the debt to one collector who would then take full responsibility for making all contacts with the alleged debtor. This could even include acquisition of location information.” (consumer who gets misdirected calls because of common last name; 62 or older)

“I hate them. I get tons of robo calls. 7 phone calls a day from each [creditor] from 9 AM to 10 PM” (62 or older)

“The industry tries to make people's lives miserable by repeated calls. Sometimes people have justifiable reasons they have not paid a debt (unemployment, disputed amount). They are like vultures preying on people and their actions need to be limited. I make it a rule not to deal with collection agencies at all. I do not answer calls I don't recognize and if I know it is a debt collector I block their number. It is pretty effective. Legislation should be passed to prevent the calls altogether and they should be limited to mailing requests for payment.”

“I'm with Massachusetts on this one. Repetitive and robo-calls are annoying and not productive. Another fact about robo-calls is that their messages often start in the middle, or maybe this is done on purpose. When it has happened to me, I just hang up. Policies regulating the number of contacts made within a specific time period should include all modes of technology.”

“Having gone through a Chapter 7 bankruptcy I can tell you that debt collector phone calls were the worst part of the bankruptcy experience. Massachusetts has it right limiting the number of calls debt collectors can make. That would remove one of the favorite illegal tactics debt collectors use to harass debtors. Some debt collectors would threaten to put us on robocalls so that our phone rang hourly until we agreed to a repayment loan schedule. Or they would threaten to call my spouse at work to see if he would be ‘more cooperative’ and agree to a loan repayment schedule even after being informed that his workplace did not allow debt collection calls. Nothing [fazed] these people and they appeared to enjoy verbally abusing me. Informing them that we wanted all debt collection to be written was also ignored. I could accurately predict who was calling by the day and time of the calls. Chase Bank called every Tuesday morning at 9AM. Bank of America called every Monday morning at 10:30AM. These calls were always professional and appreciated. I followed specific instructions given by our bankruptcy attorney who did not want the debt collectors to know that we were planning on filing bankruptcy in a few months. So I faithfully answered every single debt collector call for almost six months. I politely confirmed my identity. I confirmed I owed the debt and then I politely told each call that I could not start to repay the debt at this time. The banks/credit cards accepted this without a problem and remained professional. Others like GE Capital and the vacation time share debt collectors would then start with the abusive comments. Calling me a ‘deadbeat’ and swearing at me was popular. Another popular threat was how they would harass us nonstop until they got their money. What finally put a stop to the unethical tactics was when they would call and inform me that I was being taped I then informed them that I too was now taping their phone calls. Most immediately hung up. A few would clean up their act and then act in a professional manner. The ability to tape debt collection calls is a powerful tool for the debtor to have and I would encourage this agency to grant debtors this right. Nothing cleaned up the bad behavior like knowing they were being taped... We don't throw debtors in prison today yet the ridiculous amount of abuse and scorn they must endure is totally unacceptable. CFPB desperately needs to clean up the debt collection industry.” [More comments on taping calls can be found at “Unlawful collection practices: Harassment or abuse”]

“Where is the line drawn between abusive calling versus a diligent effort to collect a debt? I have experienced a debt collector call me several times in a day although they have already got the voice mail. Even if I already have spoken to them and told them my situation and created a ‘payment date,’ they call again the next day. I do not know if the system is talking to each other or they just have that ‘auto dialer’ on and just calls all day and every day. It is abusive and on the verge of harassment.” (victim of ID theft)

“I keep getting collection calls for some unknown person on my cell phone at least 4 times a day. I have repeatedly told them that this is not that person's number. I recently got a new number and it is so aggravating to monitor your calls because of someone else.”

“I absolutely hate robocalls, especially those that repeat constantly and relentlessly. Do these people think I'm not aware that I owe somebody, that I will forget from one day to the next? There are some people who shirk their responsibilities, but there are also those who simply do not have money to pay out a debt. People lose their jobs, get laid off, get sick and can't work, retire and try to make it from one month to the next on miniscule retirement benefits. There should be a regulation against robocalls, period. They should not be allowed. They are not necessary and only serve to harass people. It's a bullying tactic, in my opinion.” (62 or older)

“No robo-calls or automated dialing systems should be allowed for any profit-making or solicitation purpose. Period. You can call me if a tornado is coming, but if you want money, you have to use a person. And I don't see why I should pay for the call.” (62 or older)

“I often get robo calls about family members debt, sometimes 3 or 4 a day, usually for family members that I haven't spoken to for decades. I am not sure how they get my phone no. as it is unlisted and I am sure the family members don't have it." (family member with debt in collection)

“I've received as many as 40 calls over a 5-day period from Citicards and calls every 50 minutes at work during the day by Wells Fargo. This is shameful and this frequent repeat calling has to be stopped by law! Those of us who are in debt know it and don't have to be reminded over and over again. Calling numerous times per day or per week won't get the debt paid any faster. If you explain that to the collector on the other end of the phone, they blame the repeat dialing on their computers. Now that's lame. The computers can be programmed to call once a day or a hundred times a day. Once is enough.”

“We are bombarded with robo calls every day from early am to late evening with unidentified callers; no msgs left after answering machine kicks in; these types of calls should be barred unless msg left with identity of caller included and basis of call to include name of creditor and debtor included.” (62 or older)

“I would like to have some protection from the calls I have received over several years from debt collection services looking for a woman who does not live at this address and has never lived at this address. I keep getting reassurances that my number will be removed, but the calls continue.” (62 or older)

“I have the same exact problem. I have had this problem for 20+ years. I can't tell you how many times I've told the person on the other end that the person they are looking for has NEVER lived here and not a relative. It sure is disgusting. I can't figure out what to do.” (disabled consumer)

“[One commenter] says that the ‘Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits creditors from using automated dialing systems to call cell phone numbers without consent from the customer’ and that sounds reasonable if that were true. I receive countless robo calls on my cell, to which most never leave a message so there is no way to report it. To add to that, I have sent written notice to all creditors not to call my cell because of the charges, yet someone is calling. I do not answer those unknown calls because I have nothing more to add to any previous calls about the debt. The only call that has ever left a message is about a debt for someone else, too which I called and told them ithey have the wrong number and not to call, but they still call.”

“I was receiving 4 or 5 calls a day from Midland Debt Collection daily for two weeks on my cellphone. As I'm unemployed and scraping by I was ignoring - or rather trying to ignore - the calls. They were always hang-ups. Never any message. As I live in Indiana - a ‘business-oriented’ state, it seems the laws favor the debt collectors over the debtors. Limits on calls? Please, do. When I finally did have the gumption to answer when they called at 8:10am on a Sunday morning, I made a strong case about being harassed and informed him I didn't want to be contacted on my cell phone. It's only a few days but I'll see. I still don't know if it was any legit debt that they were calling about.”

“I have a fairly common last name, and my listing in the phone book uses two initials rather than a first name. I get calls from credit collectors several times a week looking for various people with my last name and one or the other of my two initials. They are just taking a stab in the dark. When I tell them that I don't live with any other family members and that I have an excellent credit rating, they take me off of their list to of numbers for today's person of interest. When I ask them not to call me at all because I have no other people living with me that they would be looking for, they say that they only had me listed for their person of the day. Tomorrow my number might pop up as a possibility for tomorrow's person of the day, but they ‘can't do anything about tomorrow’ I actually had a credit collection rep (in India) say that to me.” (62 or older)

“I have an amusing story to share about an experience I had with a debt collection agency one afternoon. I had to spend quite a bit of time dealing with their repeated calls. Of course, they weren't looking for me but rather for someone with my very common last name and first initial. I had many calls from them one day. Apparently, their telephone representatives were trained to hang up if they received any response other than, "How do I pay?" They'd hang up on me before I could complete a sentence. That particular day, either by accident or through malice (I suspect the latter.), they had their robo dialer programmed to call back immediately. The representative would hang up on me and before I could step away from the phone, the robo dialer would call me back and I'd be speaking with another representative who would hang up on me. After many such calls and hang-ups, I was finally able to get a representative to stay on the line with me long enough for me to explain that they were calling the wrong person. After that the calls stopped. As I think back on this experience, I find it quite comical, but I didn't at the time. I did file complaints with the FTC and my state's Attorney General.” (62 or older)

“I would like to see some strict regulation on the number of times a creditor can call in a given period of time. Capital One Bank's dialers will call every single hour if a payment is overdue...sometimes these things are simply overlooked. If I know I am paying bills on a given day, I just use my caller ID and ignore them. I do think that these calls need to be at least limited. It comes down to simple harassment.”

“What should stop right away is the recorded message. It just causes too many problems. I got calls from a recorded message that said if this is so and so, please hang up. Well, if it is leaving that message on someone's voicemail, it's not going to hang up. They can call someone who now has the phone number of the person who had the debt -- and numbers are recycled that fast in growing areas like where I live -- and then before you know it someone is getting a dozen recorded calls for a debt that has nothing to do with them. I also almost sued a debt collector over hundreds of calls placed right after one another to my home phone and at all hours. I paid my carrier for a phone extra that not just showed which numbers called but enabled me to block numbers. I was blocking this number for calling me at 10 pm and thought that was it. But after looking over the bill which also included showing each number, I had almost 200 calls from that same number, which I googled and it was a debt collector, and it just was on auto dial. That is an egregious abusive of the law as it stands now. And don't kid yourself if you don't think it doesn't still go on. I printed out all the calls over a three day period and went to a lawyer who said you can sue for $1,000. Let me tell you, that isn't nearly enough. There should be civil penalties for doing such abusive, insane and twisted things like that. The calls were done some twice in the same minute. The first call I took and asked the man for his name and he hung up. I called back and of course -- as everyone will tell you, you don't get through. It's busy or it becomes a dropped call. So the catch-22 is you can't get in touch with the people to say stop the calls. I even wrote them, and I did send a copy of the file of calls, and then they finally stopped. But the lack of doing squat for so long, the failure of this entire system to have any kind of concern for consumers and what they may be going through is what gives rise to such abuses. I can't say enough about this. I know this company told this mindless employee just put it on automatic call. Can you imagine if I had no blocker? This was a medical debt. What if I had a terminal illness? Do you think people ought to go through this? I think these abuses have gone on and on for so very long, without anyone addressing them and I hardly think I am the only one with a horror story like this. Number one: make it illegal for recorded calls. Period. End of story. And any debt collector who violates that ought to be slammed with a big fine. Hitting them in the pocketbook is the only way you will get these bad companies to do business according to the law.” (victim of ID theft)

“We have no debt other than what is current on our credit cards, but for 10 or15 years we have been receiving robo calls for an Edward Flanigan. We've owned this number for 22 years and have never known an Edward Flanigan. We are on the do not call list. Robo calls by debt collectors need to be banned outright.” (consumer with no overdue own debt)

“I would like to see the CFPB address the issue of their ‘phishing’ expeditions , i.e., trolling the phone listings and calling anyone with a similar name. I was listed by my initials, but with a common last name, I was getting daily calls from debt collectors until I switched my listing to a nickname. There are many comments on this site from people having the same problem, so it's obviously a common practice. For some strange reason, the folks in the phone centers, react badly when I ask them to explain how my phone number ended up being programmed into their robo dialer. The usual response has been to hang up on me. I would also like to see the CFPB address the issue of repeated calls to the wrong person. If I'm not the person of interest on the first call, then I won't be on any subsequent calls. In my experience with debt collectors, I have reached the conclusion that there are two reasons for repeatedly calling me: 1. The people in the call centers are trained not to take No for an answer. 2. By calling me repeatedly the debt collector is trying to wear me down and get me to pay a debt that isn't mine just to get them to stop calling.” (common last name; 62 or older)

“Repeated phone calls are torture. There is NO need for this when there is a mail system. One completed phone call should be enough.” (62 or older)

"Predictive calling needs to be banned outright. I can only tell you from my experience no one is ever on the line. I have tried to call the numbers back from my caller id, and it is a non-working number for incoming calls. The ban will be violated, but it will function to deter some abuse... Debt collectors are a type of telemarketer, but I know no telemarketer that would not answer the telephone. If someone is on the "do not call" telemarketing list, they should also be in the 'do not call' debt collection list."

Industry-perspective commenters pointed to the cost effectiveness of such calls and the fact that predictive calling is used by many other kinds of callers; they also argued that the technology enables collectors to program limits by number, account, time, etc. Some expressed frustration about consumers who do not pay their debts and so raise costs for everyone; a common theme was urging CFPB to deal with the “bad apples” without restricting legitimate business activity:

Collectors are responsible for re-establishing contact with delinquent customers and providing services that facilitate repayment of the loans, regardless of the technology utilized. In Collections, automated dialing systems effectively increase the ability for the collector to reach delinquent customers unwilling to proactively reach out to the creditors. Automated dialing systems are used in many other ways not related to debt collection: telemarketers use them to reach potential customers, schools use them to notify parents of closings due to inclement weather. The technology is the same but the intent is different based on the user. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits creditors from using automated dialing systems to call cell phone numbers without consent from the customer. The TCPA’s original purpose, protecting consumers from costly charges as a result of automated calls, has been subsumed by the new goal of preventing overly numerous call attempts to a number that (generally) is directly connected to the customer. It does not change the purpose of collection calls, it merely makes the process less efficient. Regulating which numbers can be called using an automated dialing system is also counter to the growing reality of wireless-only households. According to the Center for Disease Control's 'Wireless Substitution' latest report (Early release data, July-December 2012), over one third (36%) of adults in the United States live in a household with only wireless telephone service. That figure is even higher (45%) when you look at children living in the US. With an average annualized growth rate of 34%, it is conceivable that sometime before 2020 only a minority of the country's adults will be living in households with a landline telephone that can be autodialed. The CFPB should allow for the autodialing of all telephone numbers provided by the customer without byzantine consent requirements. Regardless of whether it is at application or during the course of normal business, once the number is provided by the customer to the creditor, that number should be considered another viable option for collection.” (consultant, many of whose clients are in debt collection industry; <20)

“While it is easy to lash out against debt collectors, it is also important to remember the cost that many businesses incur to not only collect the debts but also to follow the burdening regulations put on them. There are some bad apples for sure but most debt collectors are honestly trying to collect a fairly small debt. It is important that any piece of legislation or rule coming out of the CFPB also take into consideration the importance of consumers to pay ALL debts in the manner agreed but also agree to allow debt collectors reasonable means to collect those debts. cell phones should NEVER be off limits in today's consumer climate. If politicians can send me robo calls for their campaigns then they shouldn't ban businesses from using them. A few fair, common sense rules may help penalize the bad apples. Lastly, all consumers should realize the extra costs they pay everyday at every business or service they utilize that are due to criminals, irresponsible borrowers and those in our population that cost businesses money due to their lack of integrity. We all pay a lot of extra money each year due to those who intentionally disregard their own responsibilities so complaining that they were called during dinner or in the morning is unacceptable. Pay your small debts before buying you iPhone or next trip to McDonalds.” (creditor collecting own debts; <20)

The complexity of this issue is well captured by an interchange between industry-perspective and consumer commenters:

(industry commenter) “The most cost-effective alternative that still protects against numerous attempts is for the customer to pick up the phone on the first call. :-). All joking aside, the dialer still is the best solution for managing call attempts. Speaking with the customer is, and will always be, the most direct way of resolving a delinquent debt. The technology can be adapted to put limits on how many times a particular number, account, or customer can be called during the day or month. Many creditors have already enacted such changes proactively to ensure that they *don't* harass the customer but still make a reasonable effort to collect on the debt. It's the same solution that prevents Massachusetts accounts from being called more than twice in a seven-day period.” (consultant, many of whose clients are in debt collection industry; <20)

(consumer 1) “Why not just assign the debt to one collector who would use his/her very own fingers on the buttons to place the collection call?” (common last name being mistakenly called; 62 or older)

(industry commenter) “It's a good question, but unfortunately the answer is (of course) complicated. I can think of two quick reasons why that wouldn't be feasible: 1. Manually dialing phones slows down businesses and raises costs; 2. Automated dialing has preventive measures built in that manually dialing does not. To expand on the first point, debt collectors are cost centers, meaning their primary goal is to minimize costs (i.e., delinquent monies). An automated dialing system allows for a much more efficient manner of calling delinquent account-holders. Representatives are able to review the account history and status while system connects the call, so the rep can quickly engage the customer. If a customer has given their cell phone or home number to the lender knowing it may be used for future contact attempts, there is no difference to the customer if the call is executed through a computer or dialer on the keypad. To expand on the second point, automated dialing systems have a lot of built in controls that actually protect the consumer. People make mistakes, and so do collectors: calling before 8am or after 9pm, calling a number that has been restricted through a Cease & Desist request, or even calling many many times throughout the day. Automated dialers can have filters in place that restrict calls to customers based on location, time of day, or even how many attempts have already been made. In addition, calls made through the dialer can all be recorded so if there is a problem with the representative, the customer can refer back to the recording and the truth will come out.”

(consumer 1) “I don't really care if manual dialing costs you more money. You obviously have never been subjected to dozens of misdirected robo calls from debt collectors.”

(consumer 2) “A dialer does none of the things to which you refer. A human takes a lists of calls that are deemed restricted to any of the criteria that you listed, and loads that list into the computer software that also holds a lists of all calls to be made. Then the list of restricted calls are ‘scrubbed’ out of the automated dialer. This scrubbing process is akin to a human scratching out a phone number with a pen on a paper list. There are no measurable gains in consumer protection to which you refer. Calls are not recorded through the dialer. Dialers work in unison with the recording software. This recording software records manual phone calls just the same.” (getting calls about someone the consumer doesn’t know)

Another industry perspective commenter noted gaps in do-not-call protections: “As a debt collector, I noticed a problem with the protection of landlords/property owners who are requesting internal DNC's with the company I have employment with. As they will be ‘Do not call’ flagged ‘DNC’ with one account, they will not be DNC'ed with another account for the purposes of skip tracing, the chance of repeat calls in urban centers harassing certain members of the public is plausible as the only numbers that are held consistently in the database afaik ‘By Law’ are verified and confirmed numbers.” (debt collector; >50)

In terms of proposed new limits on call frequency and dropped calls, here is what commenters proposed. (Note that some commenters in this and other posts argue in favor of a no-call rule, on grounds that written communications are the safest and most appropriate):

Multiple consumer commenters urged a limit of one call per day. E.g., “I don't know what constitutes as ‘repeatedly or continuously,’ but more than once a day seems to qualify. The system is designed to give collectors complete control, leaving the consumer with none. Letters through the mail is a much more effective approach, but collectors refuse to honor that request. (consumer) “They call over and over to harass debtors and they should be limited to one call per day with a required voicemail stating their purpose. … With a fully communicative voicemail identifying the purpose of the call I think one call is quite diligent. If they choose to call and leave no message then they might as well have done nothing. At least this way their message is being delivered.” (consumer)

One consumer thought 2 calls per day was the appropriate limit, although s/he would follow the approach of one consumer who’s comment appears above, and require that “Consumers are assigned 1 caller per case, not more across multiple shifts.” (consumer; servicemember) Another consumer thought 3 calls a day should be the maximum.

Another argued: "a bright-line of one contact a month. Given that most debts are uncollected due to financial issues, it would take a consumer at least a month to be in a better financial position."

Several also favored an overall limit, with some endorsing the Massachusetts Rule. E.g., “[The] Massachusetts [rule] limiting the total number of calls is a fabulous idea.” (consumer) “the Massachusetts model sounds very sensible and the Feds should consider adopting it or something similar. Two contacts in a 7-day period is plenty, but I think wherever the limits are set they will have to be very strictly enforced. These collectors will find any loopholes, excuses or reasons to get around a regulation like this. There has to be zero tolerance, every time, no exceptions. They have violated our privacy and the right to peaceful enjoyment of our home one too many times.” (consumer)

“[W]ith the example of 1 call per day, I would think that there would also need to be another limitation such as 1 call per day or no more than 4 calls in a week. 1 call per day or no more than 4 calls in a week. Otherwise, a collector could call 1 time a day, 7 times a week, 30 times in a month, etc. … Customarily, in personal phone calls and business phone calls, if a message is left, the caller will leave a message and wait a couple of days before calling back if the person has yet to return the phone call. This is the way normal phone etiquette works--both in personal phone calls and in business calls. So, why should debt collections be different, why should they break the norms?” (consumer being called for someone commenter doesn’t know)

“One communication from the debt collector per week is plenty. On top of that, the debt collector's phone rep should have power over the autodialer in the following way. A consumer's number is on the screen, the report log on that number is on the screen, the most current info at the top of the screen. If the debt collector phone rep sees that the very last communication does is already updated (such as waiting on a job interview with a date that is still in the future), then the debt collector phone rep should have the power to prevent the auto dialer from making the call. Not only does this prevent unnecessary hounding of the customer… [but also] I think there is a way to get the debt collectors on board. The CFPB can remind them that debt collection companies may be exposing their own phone reps / employees to unnecessary verbal abuse from customers who have a legitimate justification for being upset because of follow up calls that ignore the updated agreement just reached in the prior call. If the previous communication with the debt collector creates a new timeline for possible repayment, then the debt collector should not step on that timeline by making subsequent calls less than a week later, unless the customers says call back in less than a week’s time. This also gives the debt collection phone rep the ability to say, ‘It has been a week or longer since our last communication,’ which allows the customer a moment to realize they are not being harassed on a daily basis by the same debt collector. Some consumers have situations in which their income grinds to zero and they may default on more than one account. Imagine 5 debt collectors each calling twice a day. Even one call a week can still equal one call a day if a consumer has five simultaneous defaults, but that is certainly preferable to 2 calls a day from each collection account, which would equal 10 calls a day, every day.” (consumer)

“Any collector who uses a robocall, without first having a live person call to verify that the phone number is correct, is lazy and irresponsible. Aside from being a major nuisance, robocalls to a third party are always an improper disclosure because prerecorded calls are required to include the name of the company at the start of the message (per the TCPA). I've received dozens and dozens of calls like this, and now I know which of my neighbors are alleged to owe money. I say ‘alleged’, because the companies making these calls are usually the same scofflaws who have been sued repeatedly for trying to collect nonexistent debts. Outlawing robocalls, particularly robocalls to third parties, would hurt the bad actors without having much impact on legitimate collectors. I wouldn't have a problem with live callers using autodialers, except that the technology used by some collection agencies is so far behind the times. Telemarketers are able to stay within the required 3% abandonment rate, yet my experience is that the drop rate on live calls from collectors ranges from 50% to 100%. (Yes, I had one company hang up immediately every single time one of their agents called me. I'm not sure how this is profitable.) Extending the FTC's 3% rule to debt collection calls would address this issue.” (consumer receiving continuous calls for others’ debts)

“A debt collector phone representative should have over ride capability BEFORE an autodial call is made. Suggestion...The prospective consumer's info comes on the debt collector's phone rep screen FIRST, the most current info at the top of the screen. If it looks like the info is up to date, the debt collector phone rep should be able to intercept the call BEFORE IT IS EVEN MADE.” (consumer)

One industry perspective commenter disagreed: “I think the current limits are fine. The MA rules are too restrictive and frankly could be a disservice to the consumer who wants to try to resolve the debt. I do not believe in robo calling but do believe that preview dialing on an automated dialer system should not be prohibited as the agent still has to review the information on the account and push a button to allow the dial.” (debt collector; >50)

Another, however, had a different perspective: ““While I do not advocate daily robo-calling, I have to wonder why a consumer finds themselves on the receiving end of these calls? Receiving the daily call would indicate the consumer is also continually ignoring this debt. Was that the plan going in? Did the consumer think ‘I would like to receive excellent service but I don't want to pay a dime for it’? Sadly, there is a demographic that thinks this way. If the consumer has found themselves in a tough spot I would think they would choose to take the call or contact the debt collecting entity to try to remedy the situation. As far as regulations I do believe that one call a week is sufficient. The idea of the robo-call is to keep the debt on the consumer’s mind in an effort that when they get the money they will remember to call and pay the debt. Any other purpose I think would be considered an attempt to annoy the consumer into paying. The demographic that allows this is never going to pay anyway so why play the game. Even a robo-call costs money so why continually throw good money after bad. In 30 years of this business I realize there are two types of people, the ones who want to pay their bill and the ones who never intended to pay in the first place.” (debt collector; 20-50)

One consumer raised a problem beyond call frequency: “With respect to robo-calls, any robo-calls that are misleading should be restricted. That is, a robo-call that tells you that you have a message or an account update, and the only way to get it is to call a special number with an extension, but when you call, it is just the same message asking where your payment is, is a waste of the consumer's time and the consumer's cellular resources (two phone calls, one received, one sent). ... For example, the calls I referred to earlier included robo-calls telling me that I had ‘messages’ waiting for me in my Bayview Account, and to access these messages, I needed to call a special phone number. Well, this was a bunch of baloney - it was just a recording wanting to know where I had sent my mortgage payment (I had not set up an electronic deposit yet, like they wanted, so they assumed I was skipping a payment). I believe those robo-calls were fraudulent and misleading, particularly since I was never late on any payments, and I never had any ‘message’ waiting for me. Just a robotic collection message. I received three of these messages.”

On the recurrent theme of greater enforcement/penalties, this exchange:

(consumer 1) “Something must be done [where] criminal charges can be pursued if a collection agency continues to harass through phone calls and emails.”

(debt collector; >50) “So are you saying the CEO of the company who's dialer keeps calling should face criminal charges? I don't think that is the solution, I hear there isn't room in the jails to put all the bill collectors. A lot of the multiple calls problems come from an dialer calling, if it doesn't get an answer it will call back later.”

(consumer 1) “I think charges should be pursued.”

(consumer 2) “Actually a dialer does not call back. Your dialer has been purposely setup that way by YOUR IT dept.”

(consumer 3) “Explaining why the repeat phone call abuse happens does not justify it. Apparently there are autodialers that call several consumers at the same time, than hang up on all but the first consumer that answers the phone. The result is a person can get several collection calls and hang ups throughout the day, that is just not right.”

Other comments on enforcement:

“Reading these comments, there are so many examples of abuse, it seems like this Consumer Protection agency ought to have gotten the message thus far: the phones are used to harass. The only way to get this to stop is to put some teeth into the laws through civil fines, not put the onus on the consumer to have to sue.” (consumer)

“Hold company that is owed the debt, liable for 3rd party negligence (harassment, abuse/etc.)” (consumer; servicemember)

7|Limiting collector communications; avoiding mobile call and texting charges

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.]

Two consumers and an industry commenter debated whether consumers should be able to specify whether and when they wanted to be called:

(debt collector; >50) “Why should, an agency have to mail a letter to the consumer who requested not to be called? They most likely won't read it.”

(consumer 1) “Because it is the consumer's phone and that is their right! Why should the consumer pay to be harassed?! Put the cost of doing this business where it belongs, which is on the companies not the consumers! I pay for my cell phone, I pay for the minutes, and I am the person that will decide how they are used and who will call me, not these shady, nasty companies!"

(collector) “I don't think the consumer should have the options as to when and how they are called. Most collection agency's today would remove a consumer’s phone number when asked”.

(consumer 2) “That's not true in my experience. Unethical debt collectors just ignore requests now. Most consumers also don't know that debt collectors can call you to collect a debt on any phone number you have used to contact the company or provided the company. So calling your credit card company from your best friend's home phone, your neighbor's phone, or your relative's house puts their phone numbers on your contact list. This practice needs to be changed to protect the confidentiality of the debt collection process.”

(consumer 1) “I have been harassed for over 5 years by companies looking for someone I have never heard of because this person put a random string of our area code, local exchange and 4 numbers together (that turned out to be my number) on a loan that he then defaulted on. I have told them to stop calling, they have a wrong number, and guess what? 5 Years later, they are still calling!”

Another consumer wrote: “Just like Cable companies may expect their customers to give them a four hour window for service calls, consumers should be allowed to choose a time frame they prefer to be called within. If they never respond within that time frame, then the debt collector could try a different time frame.” A third said: "Consumers should be able to determine the type of communication they receive, if any. This should not be a burden on collectors, as communicating in other forms will likely not reach the consumer at all. Further, by not allowing the consumer to limit contact, the collectors can and do engage in a harassing process of eating up a person's cell phone minutes with useless text messages and robocalls."

A different interchange, this time among consumers, involved how the costs of accommodating at least some kinds of consumer contact preferences might be distributed:

(consumer 1) “Is it possible to just allow consumers to opt out of certain kinds of communication entirely? Does CFPB have authority to require opt-out at any point during the process? They could set transparent, limited rate increases which debt collectors could charge for each mode of communication that is eliminated. A rule setting that kind of rate increase would add some necessary transparency to the question of whether these kinds of communications are even worthwhile for the debt collection agency.”

(consumer 2) “Are you seriously suggesting that debt collectors be able to charge debtors a "communication elimination fee"??! So a debtor tells you to not call them at work anymore so you say "fine, but we will have to charge you a 'do not call at work fee'" or a debtor says "I have hire a lawyer, do not contact me. All contact must go through my lawyer." and you say "fine, but we will have to charge you a 'lawyer communication fee.''' Maybe, I misread what you are trying to say. Would you like to clarify your position?”

(consumer 1) “There are some debt collection practices that should obviously be illegal. Other things that people are discussing here are obviously matters of convenience. To the extent that preferences are widely shared and outright prohibition wouldn't increase lending costs across the board beyond a marginal amount, outright prohibition makes sense. But if someone wants the ability to stop someone from conducting any and all robocalls from all phones, and robocalls help creditors recoup their loans, then the creditor should be able to charge a regulated fee for that convenience. I'm not saying that the debt collection agency itself would charge the fee (although my late-night post stated otherwise). Just that a consent-based approach is another option.”

One consumer argued that all phone calls should be disallowed unless the consumer consents: “Unless the consumer chooses to communicate by phone, all correspondences from collectors should go through mail. This allows the consumer to take time in considering what the collector is requesting. It also avoids confusion for both parties. The only reason this isn't the standard approach is because it limits how annoying and embarrassing collectors can be--plain and simple.”

Comments on the specific issue of collectors calling or texting mobile phones [Also see “Repetitive and robo-calls” for other relevant comments]:

"Consumers should not incur additional costs for cell phone calls, texting or voice messaging in relation to collections. The more costs assessed to a debtor, the less money they have to pay their creditors. Debt collectors and creditors should be required to stop all modes of communication to a device that the debtor indicates does not provide free communications whether calls or texts.” (consumer)

“Please include calls to family and friends of debtor. We are called frequently to pass on messages for people that have our last name, some of them we don't know.” (consumer; someone in family has debt in collection)

“I too, do not answer calls with no name, no number or 800 numbers. After over a year of unemployment and only able to get part time work, I had to give up my landline. I get repeated unknown calls on my cell, even though all creditors were sent written notices not to contact my cell number. I'm almost at a point that I cannot afford my cell, but if I give it up I have no way to get contact from a potential employer. When I get a full time job I will gladly pay my debts, but constant calls will not get the debt paid any faster. Not one company called me to give the credit, so they should not call my cell and cost me more money that will prolong them getting paid. Besides, most of the calls are robo-calls with no message ever being left so I never know who the call is for.” (consumer)

“The obvious solution is to ban debt collection calls to cell phones, period. Not everybody has the same options on their mobile plans, and some have strict time/call/texting limits and/or restrictions.” (consumer; 62 or older)

Despite the often vehement reaction of consumers to collection phone calls, two industry commenters pointed out the other side of the issue and distinguished between abuses and reputable collection practices:

“Let's start by assuming the creditor provided something for which a consumer agreed to pay. Creditors should be entitled to get a phone number and address at which the creditor can reach the consumer and to get updates as long as a debt is outstanding. If a consumer chooses to use only a cell phone, the creditor and collector should be able to contact him at that number.” (debt collector; >50)

“Most consumers have a bad taste in their mouth from the way that a select few agencies used to operate. And rightfully so. But look at it from the other side. If i owed you $1,000 debt do you really think sending me a letter would do the trick? Would you attempt to call me to find out my intentions? My point is, agencies are operating under a pretty broad microscope. Compliance with the laws is being monitored very closely now. We view ourselves at my company as extensions of customer service. If we call you, we specifically ask if we are calling a cell and if it is okay to reach you on that number. If you say no, we remove the number.” (debt collector; 20-50) When the moderator asked this commenter about the “free to end user” idea, the commenter went on:

“I assume by ‘free to end’ you meant the agency is on the hook for the charges incurred on that particular call. I think it would be well worth exploring. We do have situations where the consumer doesn’t have a landline and refuses access to their cell. If we receive a cease and desist order we note the account and return it to our client as such. If a consumer simply asks not to be contacted via cell we will remove the cell and send a collection letter if it is within FDCPA guidelines. Other solutions may be to send a settlement letter allowing the consumer to save money in an effort to resolve the issue. The industry certainly didn't set a very good standard and regulation is certainly needed. I think the vast majority of us get the message loud and clear and are making sure we comply implicitly. The effort needs to be two fold. The consumers have to be willing to discuss the accounts and express willingness to pay. After all, if everyone's debts were paid, there would be no need for a call. And that's not meant to sound standoffish. The simple fact remains at the end of the day, debts are owed and our clients want their money. Consumers must share some of the responsibility. A simple solution to all of the hype about calling cells which is by far the most common means of contacting a consumer these days. Direct that all telecommunication companies offer a site that allows [collection] agencies to register their phone numbers. If a call is placed to a consumer that does not have unlimited calling or texting then the charges are reversed to the registered phone agency.” (debt collector; >50)

“I do not think collectors would mind reimbursing consumers who are charged per call or per message. Add $5 for the hassle of getting the refund. Collectors should have a way to make contact with consumers who choose not to have a flat-rate telephone service. Honest, respectful and open communication by all parties is the key to giving consumers enough information to identify and understand debts and come to workable resolutions for legitimate debts. It is also the key to stopping calls to wrong numbers. Collectors who are not honest and respectful should be fined or lose their right to be licensed.” (debt collector; >50)

Free-to-end-user services. One consumer raised concerns about how this would operate:

“These so called free-to-end-user alternatives (if allowed to be used) also need to be regulated. There are huge privacy concerns at stake here. My friend started texting me on a free texting app, and then all of a sudden I was begging to be bombarded by SPAM text and SPAM phone calls. I can't be certain that the Free Text App that my friend was using was selling my phone number to other people, but it was a massive coincidence. Why else are these text apps free? How do they make their money (besides a few embedded ads)? Of course these people are selling phone numbers. My privacy is not for [sale]. Nor is my phone number. The CFPB needs to really think about these so called free-to-end user alternatives and what sort of privacy practices these companies are engaging in, if any. I don't want the free-to-end-user alternatives to behave the same as free texting apps -- selling phone numbers to Spammers.”

Another consumer expressed concern that it would exacerbate the robo-call problem:

“They call, you answer, nobody talk[s] so you hangup. Notice they call 2-3 in one day. They need to stop this. They should not have free-to-end-user. It will just making [things] worse for consumer. This does not make sense.”

One industry-perspective commenter, though, seemed positive:

“I do think a "free to end user" would work and I don't see any problems with using such a practice or service. It creates some fairness for the collection companies and will not charge the cell owner if they do not have unlimited calling.” (debt collector; >50)

Apart from the question of cost, there is some suggestion that reaction to use of mobile phones in general, and texting in particular, is related to the age of the consumer:

“Text me please... it is annoying to have to ignore your call every other day. For goodness sake it is 2013!!! Send me a text and wait for my reply. I can’t take calls at work and ignore calls from numbers I don’t know. Which makes it easy for me to be in collections and not know. If you have my cell number because the bank had it please use it. Send me a text and tell me who you are why you’re calling. If not I won’t answer.” (servicemember)

“I am on a Senior plan for my mobile phone and I get charged for each text that comes in or goes out. I am able to make/receive texts, but have to pay for each one ... so it is not fair to make me pay extra on top of what I already owe. I am against using cell phones for business advertisements or debt collecting texts or calls.” (62 or older)

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