For decades, U.S. debt collectors have plied their trade under the watchful but lazy eye of the Federal Trade Commission, which has the authority to go after the worst of the bunch but can’t create new rules governing these businesses. But later this summer, debt collectors will come under the supervision of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau… and that scares them, especially after complaints about debt collectors jumped 17% last year to 140,036.
So folks in the collections biz are undertaking both policy and publicity efforts to show the government and citizens that it’s really only a few bad apples who are harassing you through your Facebook friends, pretending to be law enforcement officers, setting up fake courtrooms, or threatening to shoot and eat your dog.
First, an industry group set up AskDoctorDebt.com, an informational website awash in soothing colors and stock photos of happy families. While the site does have links to governmental and public groups that can offer real assistance, it is interesting that its “file a complaint” link does not go to the FTC but to the industry group’s website.
Meanwhile, lobbyists for the collections industry are rising up out of the Potomac River and lurching toward Capitol Hill to push for changes it says everyone will benefit from.
You can see the industry’s key lobbying positions here [PDF], but here are a few highlights:
* A federal statute of limitations: Rather than each state having its own statute of limitations on the amount of time collectors can use litigation to collect a debt, the industry is proposing a 7-year statute that would be standard in all states.
* Allow the use of cellphone numbers, e-mail or text: Current rules strongly limit the use of newer technology for contacting consumers. The collections industry argues that many people have replaced their landlines with cellphones, and that texting or e-mailing is a much more efficient way of reaching people.
* Voicemail: Collections agents often say too much when leaving a voicemail, or say absolutely nothing at all. The industry is asking for standardized language for its agents to use when leaving a voicemail message that would not violate any laws or do damage to a consumer’s privacy.
Thanks to Alexa for the tip!