The Federal Trade Commission Tuesday announced that it was planning to hold a summit next month on the use of dialing technology to reach consumers. Meant to address the “robocall problem,” the summit will be held in Washington on October 18.
While an agenda, and other information, have yet to be announced, the FTC held a series of social chats over the summer that may shed light on what it intends to address at the meeting. The transcripts of those chats reveal an opportunity for the debt collection industry to make its voice heard at the summit.
On July 17, 2012, the FTC hosted a Facebook Chat to answer questions from the public about robocalls. Most of the questions were about telemarketing calls and consumers’ rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA).
But there was one question that specifically addressed automated debt collection calls. From the FTC’s transcript of the chat (sic):
If a collection agency is ligit, don’t they have a live person, not a robocall, contact you? Last year and now this year, I’ve had robo calls from Palsades Collection & Asta Funding, they were robo & also the same company. I don’t owe anyone any money & won’t return Paiisades’ calls which say to call another # & they leave a ref#. Asta did the same thing last year & this year, Asta is just calling & hanging up. I don’t answer these calls; let the recorder get them. I found that these companies have had complaints against them. Also get calls from all over the US, with no ID, except unknown, important, unavailable, ets. that hangup. Don’t know what thats about.
The FTC’s response: file a Do-Not-Call Registry complaint.
Debt collectors, as we all know, are generally exempt from the Do-Not-Call list. So not only was the advice inaccurate, it was basically a blow-off to the person asking the question.
In this question, the consumer acknowledges that he does not answer the calls or return a call to the number left, and thus, never interacts with the collection agency. If he truly does not owe the debt, interacting with the caller would probably clear up the matter. The consumer is buying in to the commonly-held belief that if someone else complained about a collection agency, they must be crooked. But what might seem an obvious response to those in the ARM industry should not be expected from officials holding a chat on robocalls.
We have to remember that the FTC on this chat were most likely experts on the TCPA and telemarketing violations. They may not have been aware that collectors are exempt from Do-Not-Call or that the collection agency in question may have been exposing themselves to FDCPA claims.
This is why it is so important for the debt collection industry to get involved in policymaking exercises at the federal level. The FTC, to its credit, has always been very deliberate in including the public in its research efforts, going out of its way to hold open meetings on important topics and inviting members of the ARM industry to various panel discussions and workshops.
The October “robocall” meeting, likewise, will be open to the public. It would do the industry good if people contacted the FTC to try and get on a panel or planned to attend the meeting in person in DC next month.