FTC supports CFPB on debt collection proposal
On September 18, the FTC issued its comment letter to the CFPB’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) amending Regulation F, to implement the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (the “Proposed Rule”). As previously covered by InfoBytes, on May 7, the CFPB issued the Proposed Rule, which covers debt collection communications and disclosures and addresses related practices by debt collectors. The FTC is generally in support of the Proposed Rule, and the Commission voted unanimously to approve the submission of the comment. In addition to summarizing the FTC’s legal authority and efforts to protect consumers from unlawful debt collection practices (such as enforcement actions, workshops, and outreach) the comment letter addresses several topics covered in the Proposed Rule. In particular, the FTC supports the Proposed Rule’s provisions on passive collections, decedent debt, and time and place restrictions. Other highlights of the letter include:
- Validation notices. The FTC supports the proposed changes to validation notices, which mandate more information to be provided to the consumer about the debt and the rights the consumer has associated with that debt. The comment letter encourages the CFPB to consider the benefits and risks with regard to the safe harbor for emailed validation notices in initial communications, noting it is important that debt collectors use email addresses that are current and also, that the emails are not sent to unauthorized third parties.
- Time-barred debts. The FTC supports the proposed prohibition on collectors threatening or bringing legal action against consumers to collect on debts that they know or should know are time-barred. However, the comment letter notes that consideration should be given to whether requiring the showing that the collector knew or should have known about the age of the debt is a potential unnecessary additional burden on law enforcement agencies.
- Prohibitions on the sale or transfer of certain debts. The FTC supports the proposed prohibition on selling, transferring, or placing for collection a debt that the collector knows or should know has been paid or settled, discharged in bankruptcy, or has been the subject of an identity theft report. The comment letter requests that the CFPB consider adding to this prohibition additional categories of debt that are “more squarely associated with phantom debt collection, including, for example, debts that are counterfeit or fictitious.”
- Communications media. The FTC supports the proposed requirement that a debt collector include—in emails, text messages and other electronic communications—an option for the consumer to opt-out of communications through that particular medium. The comment letter encourages the CFPB to consider requiring collectors to provide a direct, simple, electronic mechanism to quickly exercise this opt-out right.
- Restrictions on disclosures to third parties. The FTC supports the proposed definition of “limited-content messages” but encourages the CFPB to consider ways to minimize the likelihood that third parties would recognize limited-content messages as being associated with a debt collection and notes that allowing for these messages during live calls poses heightened risk for disclosure of the debt.
- Telephone call frequency limits. The FTC supports the proposed restrictions on call frequency and notes that these protections should apply to calls that “may not cause a traditional ring,” including ringless voicemail messages. Additionally, the FTC supports the application of the protections to limited-content messages and location information calls to third parties.