|Should debt collectors call your cell phone?
|By Brigitte Yuille Bankrate.com
Have an unpaid debt? Hospitals, retail stores and
financial institutions want to talk to you about it on your cell
phone and are trying to eliminate the legal obstacles that keep
them from doing so.
A trade organization made up of credit grantors and
debt collectors is asking the feds to agree to allow collectors
to reach you on your wireless phone using an automatic telephone
Consumer advocates say that this is a violation of the
law, as well as an invasion of privacy.
Clarifying the confusion
At issue is the Federal Communication Commission's 2003 interpretation
of a rule that appears in the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act was written
in the early '90s to restrict telemarketers' use of automated or
prerecorded calls. Consumers called for this law after being hounded
by telemarketing calls.
In 2003, the FCC adopted a new rule to give consumers several options for avoiding those unwanted solicitations.
The rule says no person can initiate "any telephone
call (other than a call made for emergency purposes or made with
the prior express consent of the called party) using an automatic
telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice ...
to any telephone number assigned to a paging service, cellular telephone
service, specialized mobile radio service, or other radio common
carrier service, or any service for which the called party is charged
for the call."
In updating the rules, commissioners considered the
steady rise in telemarketing calls and the growth of a new type
of automatic dialer, the predictive dialer.
Predictive dialers automatically dial numbers and
then transfer the calls to salespeople or agents if and when someone
answers the phone. These are the devices usually responsible when
you get a few moments of silence after answering the phone before
a person comes on the line.
The FCC commissioners decided predictive dialers could
be included in the statutory definition of automatic telephone dialing
The commission's ruling has members of ACA, the Association
of Credit and Collection Professionals International, saying that
they are confused and fearful of potential lawsuits.
The collectors and creditors insist that the purpose
of their calls is not to advertise or solicit but only to complete
a transaction. They say Congress did not mean to prevent creditors
from recovering payments with this law, and in both 1992 and 1995
the commission stated that the rule did not apply to calls made
on behalf of creditors recovering payments.
More than half of member agencies used predictive
dialers last year, according to ACA.
ACA officials complain that the rule has been expanded
and the commission's previous statements about calls made by or
on behalf of creditors have been discarded.