Attack of the robots! All cell phones at risk (maybe).

The new budget deal President Obama signed into law on November 2nd is getting a lot of press… and not in a good way.

Yeah… we have a new federal budget. Yeah… we avoided another government shut down.

But, there’s one little section added on to the law that allows debt collectors to robocall your cell phone if you are behind on a federal student loan or mortgage backed by a federal program.

The legislation puts the FCC in charge of developing and enforcing the regulations on these federal debt robocalls.  But, they have 9 months to put those regulations into place. It’s not clear whether the law takes effect before the FCC implements its regulations.

In other words, we may have a new law on the books that allows some debt collectors to robocall consumers’ cell phones but NO regulations and NO oversight! That is a recipe for disaster.

To help clarify what consumers can do to protect their rights until the FCC establishes its robocall regulations, we talked to Justin Holcombe, an experienced consumer right attorney with Skaar and Feagle, LLP, in Woodstock, GA.

Here’s a summary of the 10 most important things Mr. Holcombe shared with us:

  1. The current law limits unsolicited calls to landlines and/or cell phones by requiring callers have signed written consent to call a consumer for telemarketing purposes. However, simply supplying your phone number once allows calls from “non-emergency, informational” callers (like from political candidates and debt collectors).
  2. The original law strictly prohibits solicitation and debt collection robocalls to cell phones. A robocall is any call made by an automatic dialing system or uses a computerized or pre-recorded voice for the call. This new law allows robocalls to cell phones ONLY for money owed to the federal government, such as federal student loans or federally backed mortgages.
  3. Private student loans and mortgages are not covered by this legislation. If you receive robocalls to your cellphone from someone collecting for a private student loan or mortgage without your permission, they are breaking the law.
  4. Consumers can revoke consent to receive robocalls just by asking. Stay on the line, press whatever number the say to talk to a representative, and ask to stop receiving the calls. (Note: they will still be able to call you “live”, as in a real person dialing your phone number by hand, but most debt collection call centers are not likely to have this capability.)
  5. No one is sure yet what the FCC regulations will look like. They will likely set limits on the number of times you can be called in a day, what times of day are off limits, and what consumers can do to stop these calls, or at least reduce the frequency.
  6. Until the FCC does release their regulations, it is up the courts what federal student loan and mortgage debt collectors can and cannot do in terms of robocalls. They may delay hearing cases until the FCC’s regulations are put in force. Or, they could develop their own interpretations in the meantime. We will have to wait and see how it plays out.
  7. Recently, the FCC has had a very consumer-friendly stance. It is likely that the robocall regulations they develop will continue along this line and favor the rights of the consumer over the desires of the debt collectors.
  8. Whenever you receive a call from a debt collector, BE HONEST! If they truly have the wrong number, tell them. But don’t say it’s the wrong number to just get them off your back. Just tell them to stop calling!
  9. Always answer the phone when a debt collector calls your cell phone and ask them to stop calling. Missed calls usually do not register on your carrier’s database. If you ever have need to take a debt collector to court, you can have your phone’s call history submitted as evidence, so you want all the calls to show up.
  10. You can ask a debt collector in writing to cease all communications with you. This will stop all calls, emails, and letters. Just remember, though, that this does not make the debt go away. It just stops communication. Even worse, it may increase the chances your debt will result in a default judgment or wage garnishment.

Many thanks to attorney Justin Holcombe for spending time with us to explain this developing situation.

If you live in Georgia and have questions related to debt collection harassment or consumer rights, you can contact Mr. Holcombe at 770-427-5600. Outside Georgia, you can find a consumer rights attorney through the National Association of Consumer Attorneys at www.naca.net.

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If you have any questions, please give us a call at 770-952-5168 or contact us online.

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Other articles that may interest you:
Escape the Slavery Cycle Of Payday Loans
Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Safely Communicating With Debt Collectors
7 Ways to Improve Your Credit

This information is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not as legal advice. If you have concerns about your credit report, harassment, identity theft, illegal collections activity, garnishments, or property liens, you should consult an attorney who specializes in consumer rights and defense.

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