PROVO — A federal agency has issued a new rule that would allow debt collectors to contact people not just by phone but through texts, emails, and even social media.
It represented the first major change in debt collection rules since the passage of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1977 and reflected how people now communicate compared to 44 years ago.
If collectors hounding you on social media sounds a little too invasive, the rule did set limits.
One in five Utahns (21%) has at least one debt in collections.
"It opens the doors of communication," said Lacey Cherrington who has been in the debt collection business for 30 years. If you're one of them, you have likely received phone calls and letters about outstanding balances. Coming soon: Collection agencies will be able to send text messages, email, and to direct message you through your social media.
Her Provo-based collection agency, The Cherrington Firm, welcomed these changes from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
"Here's the thing, collections is the backbone of a successful credit-based economy," Cherrington said. "And businesses and government organizations – they truly, really, truly rely on us to recover their bad debt."
The new rule did not give debt collectors like Cherrington complete free rein. Yes, they can contact you through text and emails but not if they know your email is used for business. Plus, messages have to be sent at a reasonable hour just like phone calls.
While debt collectors will be able to chase down bad debt through direct messaging on social media, they cannot post messages the public sees.
Say you posted a pic of your new side-by-side vehicle. A collector cannot post a comment on that photo saying, "Hey, awesome ATV, but you owe us $3,500 that's 18 months past due, you deadbeat!"
"That's absolutely not a private communication," Cherrington said about that scenario.
Regardless of how a debt collector contacts you, each message must have instructions on how to opt-out of similar messages in the future. Cherrington cautioned opting out could lead to bigger trouble down the road.
"When a consumer attempts to cut off all communication, they often leave our hands tied," she said, "and therefore pushing us to file a suit as the only alternative to communication."
At this point, the new rules on collecting debt were set to take effect in November.
Regulators have already warned about scammers looking to exploit the rule changes to trick consumers.
Remember, a collector must tell you how much you owe and whom you owe it to. If they are not upfront about it, you should ask for that info before responding to an out-of-blue text or direct message, demanding immediate payment for a debt.