Tired of debt collectors’ harassing calls? Their newest tactics could involve pestering you through texts and emails — maybe even on Facebook.
If a recently proposed update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is approved, collectors would be limited to calling you seven times a week per debt, but they could send you unlimited emails and texts.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is seeking to update the law that was passed in 1977.
The FTC enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which was originally passed to provide consumers with legal protection from abusive, unfair or deceptive debt collection practices.
Both consumer advocates and debt collection companies say the law is out of date, particularly since digital communications weren’t an option when the law was created, according to Bruce McClary, vice president of communications for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling in Washington, D.C.
However, based on his early analysis and discussions with others in the industry, McClary actually laughed when asked how the updates would help consumers more than the current law.
“I think a lot of consumer advocates are very concerned that there is less in here for the consumer and more in these rules for the debt collection agencies,” McClary said.
How FDCPA Updates Could Affect Debt Collections
We should start by emphasizing the proposed change was only released on Tuesday, so the experts are still sifting through the text and discussing how it could affect debt collection practices, according to McClary.
“But there are some things that people need to be aware that could actually make it a little bit more difficult for those who owe a debt and are being contacted by debt collectors,” he said.
Here’s how the changes could affect you.
How Many Calls From a Debt Collector Is Considered Harassment?
According to the proposed rule, anything over seven in one week in regards to a specific debt is considered harassment. And once the collector has spoken with the consumer, the collection agency must wait a week before calling the consumer again in regards to the debt.
That may seem reasonable, but many people who are overdue on debts rarely owe on only one account, McClary points out.
“If you think about it, a person might not just owe one debt — they may have three debts in collections, so that’s 21 attempted contacts per week that would be allowed,” he said. “It’s easy to understand how this might add a little more stress than some of the regulations that are currently in place.”
How Debt Collectors Could Utilize Electronic Communications
The next part in the proposed law opens up options for other communications from debt collectors, including via email and text.
You’d have the option to unsubscribe from future communications via these methods, the proposed law states. It is designed to modernize communication options for consumers more used to using inboxes than mailboxes.
However, one of the protections within the current FDCPA is the right to demand a debt validation letter, which third-party debt collectors are required to send to you upon request.
A debt validation letter must include how much you owe, who you owe it to and what action you can take. It is one of the main tools to catch mistakes or frauds.
If debt collectors send you an email, they could use it as an opportunity to start collecting payments without clearly explaining information you have the right to know, according to McClary.
“There’s the possibility that they could include DocuSign elements in these emails that allow for people to request validation of debt — or to enter into agreements to repay the debt,” he said.
And unlike phone calls, there’s no mention on a limit for the number of contacts when it comes to electronic communications.
Social Media Options for Debt Collection
The proposed change also left the door open for social media exchanges, which could offer new opportunities for collection agencies to reach consumers where they are.
However, the current law prohibits debt collectors from disclosing any information about the debt — or even the reason for the contact — to anyone other than the person who owes the debt, according to McClary. That discretion becomes more challenging in the world of social media.
“There’s one debt collector that even suggested that if some of the changes… go into effect, they’ll be able to use social media tools like WhatsApp to contact people,” McClary said. “That’s a little more alarming. There are privacy issues when you start talking about social media as a communications tool for debt collectors.”
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
For now, the changes to the FDCPA are only proposals, so you can still rely on mail communication options like debt validation letters and debt verification letters You can also demand that debt collectors stop contacting you at certain times or places (like your work), according to McClary.
He also notes that some states provide consumer protection above and beyond the FDCPA, which you can find out about by heading to your state’s attorney general website.
“These states are already looking at ways to update their own regulations once changes are put in place on a national level,” he said.
And as far as what the future may hold, “it’s really too soon to tell,” McClary said. “Exercise your right to control the conversation as the act is written in its present form.”
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Read her bio and other work here, then say hi to her on Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.