A new proposal from the Trump administration would allow debt collectors to text consumers nonstop to ask for payments, CBS News reports. The rule was proposed by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) on Tuesday as an update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and in addition to giving debt collectors free reign to send unlimited texts, it would also allow them to make seven phone calls per week to Americans who owe money.
“The Bureau is taking the next step in the rulemaking process to ensure we have clear rules of the road where consumers know their rights and debt collectors know their limitations,” CFPB Director Kathleen L. Kraninger said in a statement. “As the CFPB moves to modernize the legal regime for debt collection, we are keenly interested in hearing all views so that we can develop a final rule that takes into account the feedback received.”
Although the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act seeks to prevent abuses by debt collectors, it was signed into law in 1977 — long before email or cell phones. As such, it doesn't address digital communications; this places things like emails and texts in a legal gray area for debt collectors, the Washington Post reports. The administration's new rules seek to rectify this — but not necessarily in a way that protects you first.
Under the proposal, which hasn't yet been implemented and is still in the public comment stage, debt collectors would legally be allowed to send unlimited texts and emails to consumers — who, in turn, would have the right to opt-out of digital communications sent to specific email addresses or phone numbers. According to ABC News, the CFPB plan marks the first time in 40 years that a regulator has proposed changes to debt collection practices.
In addition, debt collectors would be allowed to call consumers once a day to request owed payments. If they ended up reaching a customer during any one of those calls and having a conversation with them, the collector would have to wait another seven days before calling again, CBS News reports.
Christine Hines, legislative director for the National Association of Consumer Advocates, told the Washington Post that the new rules could spell trouble for consumers.
“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,” she said. “Seems like an invitation to encourage more abuse, not deter it.”
The debt collection industry has also voiced concern with the new proposal. In an email to CBS News, the head of a trade group for debt collectors said the rule needs to be "improved" before it's finalized, and called the one-call-per-day limit "arbitrary."
"We think there are several areas that need to be clarified and improved upon before the rule is finalized, including the arbitrary limit on call attempts that could unnecessarily impede communications with consumers," wrote Mark Neeb, the CEO of the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals.
The CFBP is publicly posted on the agency's website, and will be open to public comment for 90 days before it's implemented.