Text Messages From Debt Collectors: Same Harassment, Different Way
A colleague recently asked me for my thoughts on the fairly recent practice that some debt collectors have adopted of sending text messages to consumers’ cell phones. I replied, “What will they think of next? Debt collection via satellite? Robot debt collectors? ”
Debt collectors continue to get creative and come up with new ways to attempt to collect debts. With technology changing and evolving at such a rapid pace, debt collection via cell phone, text message, twitter, facebook, website, email, and more are all to be expected. Consumers must be cautious and wary of encounters they may have with unknown parties via these technologies, and realize that many if not most of these methods of contact are in violation of state and federal laws, like the FDCPA and TCPA..
Now, to specifically address text messages from debt collectors. Perhaps you’re wondering: “Can a debt collector legally send me a text?” Maybe. Maybe not. As with many new technologies, the law is not completely clear cut regarding the text message issue. Luckily, the laws are not at all vague when it comes to the basic rules of consumer debt collection. The FDCPA, the TCPA–these federal laws include the following rules that must be followed when debt collectors are attempting to collect debts, and most would be challenged to successfully follow these rules when attempting to contact a consumer via text message about a debt:
- A debt collector cannot reveal or discuss the nature of a consumer’s debt with third parties (except spouse or attorney)
- Debt collectors must identify themselves as debt collectors in every communication
- A debt collector must state that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt
So, the debt collector would have to state in the text that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt, and identify that the company sending the text is a debt collector, BUT at the same time, cannot reveal or discuss the consumer’s debt with any third party.
This would be pretty tricky to pull off in a text message, wouldn’t it?
- How on earth will the debt collector include the required information AND additional information convincing the consumer to respond regarding the debt in a short text?
- What if the text message is sent to the wrong number–if someone has changed phones? Now a third party has inadvertently been notified of the debt!
- What if a consumer shares a cell phone with another family member, or a roommate? Again, the debt has been revealed to a third party!
As you can see, it is not easy for debt collectors to comply with the law when attempting to collect a debt by contacting consumers by text message. At this point, the practice does not seem to be widespread in Florida, and the recent $1 million fine of a California-based debt collection agency for FDCPA violations via text message will hopefully deter other shady debt collectors from adopting the practice. With that said, if you or someone you know is being harassed or abused by a debt collector, whether by cell phone, text message, telephone, or mail, contact a local consumer attorney to learn more about your rights and protections.
photo credit: sxc.hu/bvdwiel