Since July 2013, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been the main federal agency tasked with accepting, compiling, and resolving consumer complaints about debt collection. But the FTC still collects those complaints through a variety of other sources.
According to FTC data on consumer complaints, the share of debt collection complaints originating in a particular smartphone app has risen dramatically. The 2013 debt collection complaint data was provided to insideARM.com through a FOIA request.
In 2013, more than 33 percent of consumer complaints about debt collection came from an app called PrivacyStar. The app was originally intended to allow users to instantly report Do Not Call List violations and other telemarketing complaints, but was expanded in 2011 to include debt collection complaints as well.
The share of debt collection complaints coming from PrivacyStar is rapidly growing. In 2012, just 19.5 percent of collection complaints were logged through the app.
In fact, the PrivacyStar app is now the single largest source of debt collection complaints to the FTC’s Sentinel database, slightly outpacing the FTC’s online complaint portal in 2013.
The FTC’s debt collection complaints are notoriously light on verification details, a point the agency concedes in its discussion of the data. Unlike the CFPB’s complaints system, Consumer Response, no effort is made to find the companies about which complaints are logged. This added level of verification is one of the main reasons the CFPB complaint totals are significantly lower than the FTC’s.
But the PrivacyStar app is attempting to change that by freeing the consumer from the burden of identifying the offending company. The app automatically captures caller ID data and sends it to the Sentinel database should a user wish to file a complaint. The FTC’s preset fields of complaint types (for example, “Calls continuously or repeatedly”) is loaded into the app, making data mapping a bit easier.
While phone number information is collected, the vast majority of debt collection complaints coming from PrivacyStar still list UNKNOWN in the company field. The likely reason is that the FTC hasn’t matched phone numbers with companies and consumers haven’t filled in the field. So the FTC is still publishing very high raw numbers for debt collection complaints that are not verified or even matched to a specific company.
It is a development the ARM industry will need to watch, however. If anything, more consumers are using the app to complain in real time about debt collection calls. And the FTC probably has or will match phone numbers to companies and use the data as basis for enforcement actions.