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On August 4, twenty-four state attorneys general responded to the CFPB’s request for comments on its proposed supplemental debt collection rule (the “Supplemental Proposed Rule”) arguing it does not “adequately protect consumers’ rights.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the Supplemental Proposed Rule— which adds to the CFPB’s May 2019 proposed rule (InfoBytes coverage here) — proposes (i) certain disclosures required to be included in communications where a third-party debt collector knows or should know that a debt is time-barred; and (ii) model language and forms that debt collectors may use to comply with such disclosure requirements.
Among other things, the attorneys general disagree with the “know or should know” standard, arguing that the Bureau should “adopt a strict-liability standard, which would be in line with what the FDCPA intends to accomplish.” Moreover, the attorneys general assert that the model disclosures (i) were not adequately tested; (ii) do not account for the variations in state laws as to the potential revival of time-barred debt; and (iii) provide a safe harbor that is inconsistent with the FDCPA and the Dodd-Frank Act. Lastly, the attorneys general express concerns that the Supplemental Proposed Rule conflicts with state laws that require state disclosures to be on the front side of debt collection notices and fails to address “obsolete debt.”
On May 7, the CFPB issued its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) amending Regulation F, to implement the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (the “Proposed Rule”). The Bureau also released a Fact Sheet on the Proposed Rule. The proposed effective date is one year after the final rule is published in the Federal Register, with comments on the Proposed Rule due 90 days after publication. Generally, the Proposed Rule covers debt collection communications and disclosures and addresses related practices by debt collectors. Highlights of the Proposed Rule include:
- Coverage. The Proposed Rule incorporates many existing provisions of the FDCPA into Regulation F including existing definitions of “debt collector” and “debt,” with only minor wording and organizational changes. The Proposed Rule would generally only cover third-party debt collectors, not the first-party efforts of the original creditor or its servicer, and specifically excludes in-house collectors of creditors (“[a]ny officer or employee of a creditor while the officer or employee is collecting debts for the creditor in the creditor’s name.”). The Proposed Rule restates the FDCPA’s definition of “consumer” but interprets the term to include “a deceased natural person who is obligated or allegedly obligated to pay a debt.” Additionally, with respect to the special definition of “consumer” for the section on communications in connection with debt collection, the Proposed Rule interprets that to include a confirmed successor in interest as well as the personal representative of a deceased consumer’s estate.
- Validation Notice. The Proposed Rule requires a debt collector to provide a consumer with a validation notice that includes certain information about the debt and the consumer’s rights with respect to the debt including: (i) the debt collector’s name and mailing address; (ii) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is currently owed and, for consumer financial product or service debt as defined in the Proposed Rule, the name of the creditor to whom the debt was owed on the itemization date; (iii) the itemization date and the amount of debt owed on that date; (iv) itemization of the current amount of the debt in a tabular format reflecting interest, fees, payments, and credits since the itemization date; (v) the current amount of the debt; (vi) if the debt is a credit card debt, the merchant brand, if any, associated with the debt, to the extent available to the debt collector; (vii) information about consumer protections; and (viii) consumer response information, including dispute prompts. The validation notice must also include the “debt collector communication disclosure” indicating the communication is for the purposes of collecting a debt.
- Disclosure Safe Harbor. Under the Proposed Rule, if a debt collector delivers in writing the Bureau’s Model Form B-3 validation notice, provided in appendix B to the Proposed Rule (available on pg. 491), it is considered to be in compliance with the validation notice requirements, though use of the model form is not required.
- Electronic Disclosures. The Proposed Rule would require debt collectors who provide required disclosures electronically to obtain the consumer’s affirmative consent directly to comply with Section 101(c) of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (E-SIGN Act). In the alternative, debt collectors can send the electronic disclosures to a particular email address or phone number (in the case of text messages), that the creditor or prior debt collector could have with regard to that debt in accordance with the E-SIGN Act. Additionally, the Bureau released a flow chart to clarify how a debt collector would provide certain required disclosures electronically.
- Conduct Provisions.
- Time and Place Restrictions. The Proposed Rule clarifies that calls to mobile telephones and electronic communications, such as emails and text messages, are subject to the FDCPA’s prohibition on communicating at times or places that the debt collector knows or should know are inconvenient to the consumer, subject to certain exceptions.
- Restriction on Number of Telephone Calls. With exceptions for certain types of calls (such as those responding to a consumer request for information or made with prior consent by the consumer given directly to the debt collector), the Proposed Rule prohibits a debt collector from calling a consumer about a particular debt more than seven times within a seven-day-period. The Proposed Rule also prohibits a debt collector from calling a consumer for seven consecutive days after having had a telephone conversation with the consumer regarding the debt, beginning with the date of the conversation. A debt collector who does not exceed the frequency limits is deemed in compliance with the FDCPA’s prohibition on harassment and the Dodd-Frank Act’s prohibition on unfair acts or practices as it relates to telephone calls.
- Text and Email Communications. The Proposed Rule does not contain a restriction on the frequency or number of communications a debt collector can make via email or text message. However, the Proposed Rule requires a debt collector to include—in emails, text messages and other electronic communications—an option for the consumer to unsubscribe from future such communications and would prohibit a debt collector from attempting to communication through a medium the consumer has requested the collector not use, including a particular phone number or email address. The Proposed Rule would prohibit a debt collector from contacting a consumer through a workplace email address (absent prior consent by the consumer or receipt by the debt collector of an email sent from the consumer’s work email account) or through a public-facing social media platform, except through the platform’s private message function.
- Limited-Content Messages. The Proposed Rule specifies certain content parameters for a “Limited-Content Message” that a debt collector could send by voicemail or text that would not be considered a “communication” and therefore, would not need to include the required disclosures. Additionally, if the limited-content message was heard or observed by a third party, it would not constitute a prohibited third-party disclosure.
- Other prohibitions. The Proposed Rule prohibits a debt collector from, among other things, (i) suing or threatening to sue on a time-barred debt; (ii) reporting debts to credit reporting agencies prior to initiating communications with the consumer; and (iii) selling, transferring or placing for collection a debt to another debt collector that the collector knows or should know has been paid or settled, discharged in bankruptcy, or relates to a filed identity theft report.