Debt Collectors Seemingly Split on the Question of Calling Cell Phones

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A consumer gives you a contact number that turns out to be his cell phone. What do you do?

In a poll-meets-pop-quiz of readers, 36.5 percent of participants said that when they get a contact number from a consumer that turns out to be a cell phone, they continue to call a consumer as they would on a landline. But coming in at a very close second, 33 percent of participants said that their next move would depend on whether or not they got the cell phone number specifically for the purposes of debt collection. Nine participants even wrote in to amend their answers, saying that it’s their collection agency’s practice to ask the consumer for permission to call their cell phone number for debt collection purposes.

According to the poll, 13 percent of participants scrub cell phone numbers from their lists altogether because “it’s not worth the regulatory headache.” Six percent of participants said they would ask the consumer for a home phone number, hopefully to avoid such regulatory headaches.

We reported that The Federal Communications Commission’s amicus brief filed in the case of Nigro v. Mercantile Adjustment Bureau sought to clarify what it means to get “prior express consent” from a consumer to call their cell phone number for the purposes of debt collection. According to the FCC, since Nigro did provide his cell number to the creditor, but not during the transaction that resulted in the debt owed, Mercantile violated the TCPA when it called Nigro’s cell number to collect the debt. But in another declaratory ruling earlier this year, the FCC said that “consent to be called at a number in conjunction with a transaction extends to a wide range of calls ‘regarding’ that transaction, even in at least some cases where the calls were made by a third party.”

The need for clarity about prior express consent is only going to grow, as TCPA lawsuits are poised to become the second most-litigated statute in debt collection after Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Jack Gordon, founder of WebRecon, has tracked this trend on a monthly basis; he’ll share his expert knowledge on how collection agencies can use litigation and complaint data to be proactive in their compliance efforts at the webinar insideCompliance: Decoding Litigation Data in 2014, August 5 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Also, for the latest legal insight on the challenges of contacting consumers on their cell phones, check out To the Point: Collection Call Compliance, newly updated for 2014.


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