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It is widely estimated that about 70 million Americans have bills in collections at any given point. That means a broad portion of the population understands just how frustrating, annoying, and intimidating calls from debt collectors can be.
It could be about to get worse. That's because a new regulation finalized by the ironically named U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will allow debt collectors to contact you by text message, email, and social media instant message.
Finalized late last month, the regulation will take effect on October 30, 2020, giving people time to prepare themselves.
In a statement, the CFPB was quick to highlight the new restrictions on contacts that collection agencies must follow. This includes limiting collectors to no more than seven phone calls within seven days or calling back within seven days after actually having a conversation with the debt holder.
The final rule requires collectors that contact debtors digitally — through texts, emails, social media, etc. — to give people who receive the messages a clear opportunity to opt out. But there are no guidelines on what that opt-out will look like, and there is no limit on the number of digital messages collectors can send.
Consumer advocacy organizations were quick to pile on the new regulations, noting that people who owe multiple debts are still open to a barrage of phone calls and that people should be able to grant consent to being contacted electronically rather than having to opt out.
In remarks that should be quite revealing, Jay Gonsalves, the former president of the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, described the rule as a "win-win." Collectors have wanted to get in on the message game, as more Americans use text and emails for appointment reminders and other services. Automated messages will also allow collectors to save money compared to phone calls.
Another aspect of electronic messages that consumer advocates worry about is the potential for fraud. The National Consumer Law Center is advising people not to click on any links or attachments that come in unsolicited messages.
Even if you have a debt in collections, you have the right to verify that you actually owe the debt that collectors are contacting you about. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1977 requires collectors to give you a detailed account of the debt if you request it. You should also:
For now, it appears that consumers have few options about the rule coming into force other than counting on the incoming Biden administration to repeal it. But there are also laws in place against creditor harassment, and if a series of digital messages rise to that level, you have legal options to seek relief.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
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