FAQ: Debt Collectors and Cell Phones
Can a debt collector call my cell phone?
Only if you let them. If they don't have permission, they might be violating the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
Not many people know what the Telephone Consumer Protection Act is, what it says, or why it matters if they are getting called by debt collectors. Below is a short list of questions and answers regarding the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. It is by no means exhaustive, but should provide a decent starting point for people with questions.
What does TCPA stand for?
“TCPA” stands for the “Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991”
What is the Telephone Consumer Protection Act?
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (47 U.S.C. 227) is a federal law enacted by Congress to deter the use automated telephone equipment (autodialers) in dealing with the public. The law has many restrictons, some limiting the ways a debt collector can legally conduct business.
What does the TCPA say?
The most important part of the TCPA for consumer clients is the restriction the law places on the use of autodialers to contact cell phones. The law says that a debt collector (among other entities) cannot use an autodialer to call or text a cell phone without prior consent. Because most debt collection business models involve rapid contact of potential debtors, many companies use automatic systems to make the calls. Compliance with the law has increased exponentially for debt collectors due to the rise in consumer use of cell phones as a primary phone.
How do I know if I consented to calls to my cell phone?
The debt collector has to prove consent. Most courts have held that an initial consent given when an account was opened is enough. If you did not give the original creditor your cell phone number or have since changed your number, the debt collector will have a very hard time proving that you consented to calls or text messages. If you did provide the number to the debt collector, all is not lost. You can revoke consent my explicitly telling the debt collector that they do not have your consent to contact your cell phone. Write them a letter to make a record of your revocation. If they continue to contact you, they are almost certainly violating the TCPA.
What happens when a debt collector violates the TCPA?
You can hire an attorney to sue them or sue them yourself. Each violation of the TCPA is worth $500 in statutory damages or $1,500 if the violation was willful. Each call, regardless of whether you answer it, is a violation of the TCPA. Since most debt collectors call at least once a day, the damages can quickly accumulate. My recommendation? Call a consumer lawyer who handles these cases.
The debt collector is calling my cell phone but looking for someone else. What can I do?
Tell them that they have the wrong number and contact a consumer lawyer. Having as wrong number is not a defense to TCPA violations and the fact that it is a wrong number establishes an unequivocal lack of consent. The TCPA considers whether the subscriber or owner of the cell phone gave consent, not whether the person who provided the number gives consent. Call a consumer lawyer, you probably have a case.
If I call a consumer lawyer, will I have to go to court?
Maybe. Most cases settle, but it is always possible that a case will end up going to trial. I file cases in either state and federal court, depending on the number of violations.
What if I have a question that isn’t listed here?
Give me a call. I am always happy to answer questions.