If you’re hiding out from creditors, you’re probably used to ignoring calls from unknown numbers. But the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently finalized a rule that makes it easier for debt collectors to contact people using social media, text, or by email. Here’s what you need to know.
New rules for debt collectors
The CFPB issued a “final rule” (their term for an amendment) clarifying prohibitions on harassment and unfair practices by debt collectors as part of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). They new rule will take effect in late 2021. Since the FDCPA was originally enacted in 1977, it has had no language or guidance about social media, texts, or email. Unfortunately for people struggling to pay their debt, the clarification makes these newer technologies fair game.
That said, the clarification by the CFPB also includes some new protections:
Debt collectors will be presumed to violate federal law if the debt collector places telephone calls to a particular person in connection with the collection of a particular debt more than seven times within seven consecutive days or within seven consecutive days of having had a telephone conversation with that person about the debt.
Our rule also gives consumers the option to unsubscribe from receiving text messages and emails from debt collectors or otherwise limit ways debt collectors contact them. It also clarifies the use of voicemails and other messages left by debt collectors.
With regards to voicemails, the Rule restates the FDCPA’s specific prohibition against debt collector repeatedly contacting borrowers by phone, but now clarifies that calls that go directly to voicemail (i.e., a ringless voicemail) are also included in their definition of what constitutes contact.
However, according to a CFPB briefing, there is no limit on the number of texts or emails that debt collectors can send to consumers. While the rule also asks debt collectors to provide an opt-out option, it still opens up a new line of communication that could be easily abused, especially if consumers are not fully aware of their opt-out options.
“Nobody wants unwanted communication,” Linda Jun, senior policy counsel at the nonprofit Americans for Financial Reform, recently told USA Today. “But lower-income folks, a lot of them are on pay-as-you-text plans, so that’s a major concern if a debt collector gets that number. That is costing that person money, especially money they might not have.”
Another concern is fraud, as text scams have become a growing problem in recent years. Earlier this year, the FTC issued statements warning consumers about text scammers who phish consumers with links and unsolicited attachments.
“There are unfortunately going to be a lot of scammers out there who pretend to be debt collectors, sending messages and emails,” commented April Kuehnhoff, from the National Consumer Law Center, in an interview with CBS News.
Know your rights
For more information on your rights when dealing with debt collectors, check out this Lifehacker post. If a collector is harassing you, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling 855-411-2372, as well as with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 877-382-4357. You can also report them to your state’s attorney general.