In two separate segments airing on consecutive days, the FOX News morning show FOX & Friends took on the debt collection industry with an eyebrow-raising level of misinformation and general sloppiness. The segments focused on dealing with abusive collectors and negotiating settlements for debt.

The first piece, aired Tuesday in the show’s “The Law is on Your Side” segment, the cable channels legal news analyst, Peter Johnson Jr., used typical inflammatory language to cast the most egregious consumer interactions as commonplace. And of course there were recorded soundbites (which originally ran in a 60 Minutes piece aired in 2011).

Johnson got many small facts wrong in the piece, like referring to the FDCPA as the FDCP and then referring to the Act as the Fair Credit Reporting Act. In general, the piece seemed rushed and sloppy, and made some preposterous points when Johnson went off script (like saying that collectors would “hold your child as collateral” if they could). He also directed consumers to file complaints with the FTC rather than the CFPB.

The segment was enough to raise the ire of ACA International who sent a letter to FOX News urging them to do more research, perhaps even going so far as to reach out to industry representatives, before airing future pieces.

The second segment aired Wednesday morning and focused on negotiating with collectors. This segment’s central message was to engage with debt collectors rather than trying to avoid them, a concept anyone in the ARM industry can get behind. But Johnson also continually noted that collectors have a “small window” in which to collect and intimated that after the statute of limitations ran out, no more collection activity could occur.

Wednesday’s segment also updated the complaints outlet urging viewers to contact the CFPB (or a consumer attorney!) to file complaints.

Below is the full text of the letter sent to FOX Tuesday by the ACA.

Good morning Fox and Friends,

As the Association representing the accounts receivables / debt collection industry we are committed to making sure consumers have fair and accurate information about their rights when contacted about a delinquent or defaulted debt.  In watching this morning’s segment, Mr. Johnson swung and missed on an important opportunity to provide consumers with the type of information they really need.

Given the many errors from today, we are deeply concerned about the portrayal of “how to make the debt collector your very best friend” as promised for tomorrow.  Rather than responsibly helping consumers work with a creditor or debt collector, Fox plans to teach them how to cheat the public and private sector out of rightfully owed debt as well as perpetuating inaccurate, inflammatory and misleading information.

Beyond the broad brush bombastic rhetoric painting all debt collectors as out to get consumers, there is no context for the allegations raised about debt collection abuses or the reality that they are the exception, not the rule.  Further, there was no mention of the importance that legitimate debt collection provides for the public and private sector or our national, state and local economies – especially concerning given Fox’s pro-business position.  Nor does it remind consumers that they have a personal responsibility to work with creditors and debt collectors to resolve rightfully owed debts.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is mistakenly referred to as FDCP, nor should it be called the Fair Credit Reporting Act, as it was on the program this morning.  While the FTC used to be the place for consumer complaints regarding debt collection, this is now the responsibility of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and includes a process whereby consumers can get their complaints resolved through direct communication with the collection agencies with whom they have a concern.

Further, the recovery of consumer debt is not limited to small windows of time in that a debt remains a debt until paid.  It is true that there is a statute of limitations governing the timeframe whereby a creditor or debt collector can sue / threaten to sue but there is no national standard beyond certain types of bankruptcy that removes the consumer responsibility for a debt.  Our industry stands for honesty, compliance and personal responsibility.  We have no desire to contact consumers who don’t owe a debt and are focused on helping resolve these issues with those who do in a lawful and respectful way.

Please do a better job at providing factually accurate information to your viewers.  We would be happy to provide an attorney or other industry expert that can provide FOX viewers with information as it pertains to consumer rights and what a consumer should do if contacted by a debt collector. 

Sincerely,

Mark Schiffman
Vice President, Public Affairs
ACA International

 


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