New collection rules: what they mean for consumers

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If you’ve recently received a text, email, or social media message from a debt collector, here’s one of the first things you should do: Make sure you know your rights.

The new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rules, which came into effect on November 30, clarify how debt collectors can use modern communication methods such as email, texting, and social media to communicate with consumers, between others.

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“Consumers need to be educated on what to expect and how to protect themselves,” says Leslie Tayne, a New York-based debt relief lawyer.

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about how the new rules affect debt collection.

How can debt collectors contact me?

Debt collectors can now contact you via email, text, and social media, as well as traditional means of communication such as phone calls or regular mail.

Are there any limits to how debt collectors can contact me online, by text or email?

Yes. Debt collectors must identify themselves as such. In addition, all messages they send should be private so that they cannot spread your debt on your Facebook Facebook. -0.20%

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feed, for example. They can try to befriend you on social media, however, as long as they let you know that they are debt collectors. They should also give you the opportunity to unsubscribe from these communications. Debt collectors who violate permitted practices are subject to Federal Trade Commission enforcement and may also be liable for violations of state laws. Consumers can sue a debt collector in state or federal court, although there are time limits.

How often can a debt collector call me?

Under the new rules, debt collectors cannot attempt to call more than seven times in a seven-day period about a particular debt. This restriction applies if you do not respond to it; if you do, they can’t call you within seven days of starting a phone conversation about a particular debt, according to the CFPB. Keep in mind that these restrictions do not apply to text messages, emails, and other types of media.

Are there any potential drawbacks for consumers with the new debt collection rules?

There could be, Ms. Tayne said. For example, you should go to the trouble of opting out of these communications, and people who don’t regularly check social media or miss an email may not see critical debt information. With the new ability to reach people online, via email, and text, there could be more bad actors trying to scam people into paying them money on suspected debts. Ms Tayne said.

How can I verify that the debt collector is legitimate?

Start by asking for the name, phone number and physical address of the collection agency the debt collectors work for, Ms. Tayne says. Technically, you shouldn’t have to ask because they are required to give you certain information when they first communicate with you or soon after, usually within five days, according to the CFPB. This includes the name and mailing address of the debt collector, the name of the creditor and the amount of debt. You shouldn’t give personal information to debt collectors until you have adequately verified the debt and the agency is legitimate, Ms. Tayne says.

How else can I avoid a debt collection scam?

Beyond asking for the collection agency’s verification and proof of the debt, it is also advisable to contact the original lender to discuss the details, especially if your account is to be in collection, which has been incurred for contact you and your debt status, Ms. Tayne says.

What if I don’t recognize a debt?

If you don’t recognize the debt, you have the right to ask for more information, Ms. Tayne says. It’s a good idea to submit a written request for this additional information for your records, she adds.

Can Debt Collectors Threaten Me?

Absolutely not. It is illegal for debt collectors to threaten or harass you, use obscene language, make false or misleading statements, or use unfair practices. So, for example, they can’t pretend you’ll be arrested, threaten to suspend your driver’s license, or say they’ll call your employer if you don’t pay immediately, according to the FTC. These are automatic red flags and should be reported to the FTC immediately. Debt collectors are also not allowed to contact you during the times you have specified as inconvenient. It is possible that legitimate debt collectors will sue you, but they still have to follow the rules. So, for example, they cannot claim that they will take legal action if it is not true. If you are sued, be sure to respond – personally or through a lawyer – before the date stated in the court documents; don’t just ignore it, says the FTC.

What if the debt collector acts inappropriately or if I suspect a scam?

You should report any issues you have with a debt collector to the Federal Trade Commission at reportfraud.ftc.gov as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at consumerfinance.gov/complaint and your state attorney general, including one. list can be found at consumerresources.org/file-a-complaint.

Remember that inappropriate or illegal behavior on the part of a debt collector does not mean the debt will be written off, Ms. Tayne says.

Ms. Winokur Munk is a writer in West Orange, NJ. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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