Debt Collectors Must be Careful about the Wording of Messages They Leave

Andrew Campbell: If they’re calling to collect a debt, they have to be careful about leaving messages. I think the law is going to change here a little bit. A lot of collectors refuse to leave any messages, and they’re actually the smartest collectors.

If they don’t leave a message, they can never violate the law. Where they get themselves into trouble is, every time they leave a message, they have to say the following: This is an attempt to collect a debt. This is a call from a debt collector.

When they talk to you, they have to give you what’s similar to a mini-Miranda.  They have to say, this is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information will be used for that purpose. This call is from a debt collector. That’s what they have to say.

When they leave a message like that on an answering machine, they take a big risk, because what if the debtor walks into their house and they’ve got family friends with them or they got relatives with them, right? They hit the answering machine.

Now any debtor shouldn’t be hitting their answering machine to play while they have people in the house, because you never know what’s going to be on there. They play it, and it’s loud and everyone hears it. Well, you got a violation.

That’s why collectors a lot of times won’t leave messages. That’s actually the smartest way to go, because they have to say those words. If they don’t, that’s a violation. So, they’re kind of damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

It Is a Violation to Contact a Person through Facebook in an Attempt to Collect a Debt

Interviewer: What about with the new media? Do you have debt collector’s texting people or contacting them through Facebook?

Andrew Campbell: To friend somebody on Facebook, you have to take an affirmative act and send them a friend request. Well, by doing that, they’re making a representation that they’re the person’s friend. Sorry, but only in a fantasy world would a debt collector be deemed a friend to somebody.

The Facebook rules—there are actually rules on Facebook for doing these things—and that kind of contact violates Facebook’s privacy policies. It’s a violation of the FDCPA—clearly a violation.

Interviewer: But do debt collectors do that?

Andrew Campbell:  It happens sometimes but not often. It has happened before. Here is an example. The use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or—here’s where they get them on the Facebook—or obtaining information concerning a consumer.

So, the use of a false representation or deceptive means to obtain information concerning a consumer is a violation. If they call up an employer, and they lie about who they are, that would be a violation. If they get onto Facebook and say, hey, I’m a friend of yours, can you ‘friend’ me and the person does, that’s deceptive. It’s pretty clear it’s deceptive—not used a lot.

Collectors also can’t make lists of people who haven’t paid. In fact, I just saw this. I saw a church do that. A church posted onto the church bulletin board. Are they a creditor or a debt collector? Probably not a debt collector, but certainly could be a creditor. They posted the names of all the people who didn’t tithe.

You try to embarrass somebody, and you’re making a list. It’s really a list of non-debtors, but it’s the same kind of thing. Would I sue a church? No, probably not.

Interviewer: Do debt collectors ever threaten to post things in Google search results or post things on the web if someone doesn’t pay?

Andrew Campbell: Once in a while you’ll hear about the Facebook posting becoming outrageous. You’ll have cases where they’ll post notices on doors. A lot of times it’s just people on the phone threatening things. What do they say? In one case they said to a man, we’re going to send in a helicopter to come visit you at night.