Politics

Debt collectors can now slide into your DMs as Trump social media rule takes effect

The rules do have parameters, argue big business advocates like Mark Neeb, CEO of ACA International, a trade association for debt collectors. Neeb sent a statement to NPR saying that these new rules are great for the people he represents, which is debt collectors consumers. “Consumers in the collections process deserve to be on a level playing field with others in the financial services marketplace with recognition of their preference to use email and text messaging over other outdated methods, such as faxes as outlined in the current law.”

Actual consumer advocates point out that the words Neeb has put together into a sentence offer up a solution to the problem these new rules have created. An attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, April Kuehnhoff, explained to NPR that if you want to recognize the consumer’s “preference” for digital communication “over other outdated methods,” then consumers should have been given the right to choose to opt in to this potential privacy nightmare of harassment and abuse. The consumer is also supposed to be provided a way of opting out of receiving these kinds of communications.

There are limitations: Any messages from debt collectors must be private, and if a debt collector wants to “friend” you on one of your social media accounts, they must tell you that they are a debt collector who is interested in collecting a debt from you. So that’s something.  

Back in 2019 when the Trump administration offered up these proposals, the top line of the proposed rules were very exciting for American consumers, promising to Establish a clear, bright-line rule limiting call attempts and telephone conversations.This would limit the number of times a debt collection agency could call you during the week to seven—per outstanding debt. Consumer advocates had wanted this number closer to three per week. As Linda Jun from Americans for Financial Reform told The Washington Post in 2019, for people with more than a single outstanding debt, “It could add up quickly.” 

The second line of proposed rule changes was also a much needed update: “Clarify consumer protection requirements for certain consumer-facing debt collection disclosures.” This meant that a debt collector must provide a transparent rundown of the debt they were trying to collect from you and an easy-to-process way of responding to their request. This rule is an attempt to protect consumers from having their cases prematurely reported and hurting their credit ratings.

Also included in proposal was a more clear codification of the above reporting to a consumer agency as well a officially prohibiting a debt collector from suing or threatening to sue a consumer to collect a debt if the debt collector knows or should know that the statute of limitations has expired.” That last rule proposal can be filed under the I can’t believe that wasn’t already codified section of your filing alphabet.

The new move to open up consumers to even more communication streams from debt collection agencies might seem like the kind of upgrade one has to do as we all use the computers that we call “phones” more and more. However, when you consider that the overwhelming amount of complaints that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) receives every year from Americans is in reference to debt collectors and bad practices by debt collectors, this doesn’t seem like a move that would do the thing the CFPB is supposed to be doing. Christine Hines, legislative director for the National Association of Consumer Advocates, told the Post, “With the extreme examples of debt collectors’ harassment and invasion of consumers’ privacy that we’ve seen, it’s always a bad idea to exempt debt collectors from liability or grant them a safe harbor, in any circumstance. Seems like an invitation to encourage more abuse not deter it.”

Biden’s new CFPB director, Rohit Chopra, says these new rules will be monitored by his agency to see how they affect consumers and that these new rules do not change the fact that bad actors trying to scam people or harass people are acting illegally. “Abuse and harassment by debt collectors are strictly prohibited under federal law, regardless of whether consumers are being contacted in person, over the phone, or on social media. The new debt collection rules will be useless unless they’re enforced.”

Considering the people who helped create these new rules spent most of their time figuring out ways to defang any and all agencies from enforcing rules that would help protect America from being preyed on by big corporate interests, and considering the Trump administration’s only guiding light was the enfranchisement of conmen of all shapes and sizes, we will see.

Here is the Federal Trade Commission’s official Debt Collection FAQs page to give you a fighting chance at fighting off harassment from debt collectors and scam collectors.




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