The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) is a federal law intended to protect consumers from harassment by phone calls, texts, or even faxes. The TCPA applies to debt collectors. If you are receiving texts or phone calls to your cell number regarding any debts you may owe, these communications may be in violation of the TCPA as well as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).
Debt Collection and the TCPA
The TCPA regulates specific communications to consumers including auto-dialed calls, text messages, telemarketing calls, pre-recorded calls, and even unsolicited faxes. Unless a consumer has signed up to be on the National Do Not Call Registry, a debt collector needs no permission to contact a consumer at their residential phone number. This would include any auto-dialed and/or pre-recorded calls. While there are several legal guidelines a debt collector must follow when they call a residential phone number (such as the time of day a call is allowed, certain disclosures they must make, etc.), as long as they follow the FDCPA, they are legally allowed to contact a consumer regarding a debt.
In direct contrast, cell phone users must provide explicit consent to a debt collector in order to receive a debt collection call from an automatic telephone dialing system (ATDS). (These are the phone calls where you may hear a short pause before the phone call actually connects.)
Getting a text from a debt collector may be legal if they have consent and identify who they are, and all of the other regulations required under the FDCPA. The TCPA requires that any debt collection calls made to a cell phone by an auto-dialer or a pre-recorded call must receive prior consent through either oral or written contact from the consumer. If the debt collector does not have your consent, the call could be illegal. However, many debt collectors continue to make these types of illegal calls to consumers because they get away with it, and no one holds them accountable.
TCPA Penalties for Violations
TCPA violations are commonplace, but if caught, a debt collector could be looking at substantial fines and penalties. Being the victim of unscrupulous debt collection communications can make it feel as if you are constantly receiving spam calls and spam texts regarding your debt. However, the TCPA regulations exist to protect the consumer from illegal debt collection calls.
Fines for TCPA violations can include up to $500 per phone call. If the calls or texts are considered “willful,” the penalty can reach as high as $1500 per phone call. These penalties can be given to the consumer in certain circumstances, and so it is in your best interest to ensure that you report any debt collector you feel is violating the TCPA.
What Can You Do?
First, sign up for the do not call list at the National Do Not Call Registry. You can also attempt to block text messages that appear to continually come from the same debt collection agency if it rises to a level of harassment.
You can also file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-CALL-FCC or fill out a complaint online.
Some debt collectors have argued successfully in court that if a person signed up for a credit card or loan application and provided their wireless number, that gave consent to calls or texts. The law is ever-evolving on this issue. If you are unsure if you have received communications that are in violation of the TCPA, call us at Credit Repair Lawyers of America at (248) 353-2882. Or email us at [email protected]. The call is free and the advice is priceless.