When the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed in 1977, debt collectors could contact consumers by telephone, regular mail, and telegram. Now, people commonly use email for business as well as personal communications. Use of text messaging and social networking sites (and other social media) is also becoming more widespread. These new communication methods can be more efficient for consumers and collectors, but they also raise some concerns. CFPB is trying to figure out how they should be used in the debt collection process.
One big question is what to do about many important steps in the collection process that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act talks about as happening "in writing" or being "mailed":
- the "validation notice" collectors must send consumers at the beginning, with basic information about the debt. (FDCPA § 809). (See The "validation notice" sent to consumers)
- consumer's request for name and address of the original creditor, to help recognize the debt (FDCPA § 809(a)((5))
- the notice that the consumer disputes the debt (FDCPA § 809(a)(4)). (See When consumers dispute a debt)
- the collector's verification of the debt (FDCPA § 809(a)(5)). (See When consumers dispute a debt--How should collectors investigate & verify the debt)
- the consumer's request that the collector limit or cease all communications (FDCPA § 805(c)). (See Questions about phones & mobile phones in debt collection--Limiting collector communications)
How should a new federal rule treat using email, texting and other electronic means for these communications?
- Do collectors now send validation notices by email, text or other social media? In what format (PDF, plain text, HTML)?
- Are consumers using email, texts or other social media to request information, dispute the debt, or tell the collector to limit contact? Do collectors now treat such communications like they would treat a written message?
- What are the pluses, and minuses, from the perspective of the consumer and the collector of allowing communication by emails, or texts, or other social media for some or all of the list above?
The E-Sign Act sets a procedure for companies to get the consumer's consent to provide disclosures and other documents electronically. Is this the way to handle using email or other electronic format to send the validation notice or verification of the debt? If the consumer gives E-Sign consent on the account before it goes to collection, should that be enough -- or should every collector who gets involved with collecting a debt have to get a new E-Sign consent?