The Checkout

Debt Collectors Seek to Auto-Dial Cellphones

Debt collectors are asking the Federal Communications Commission for permission to use automated dialers to call a debtor's cellphone about overdue bills, which the collectors were barred from doing in 2003. The FCC has said it would review the request and is seeking public comments which are due next month. Here's the full story from today's Post.

What do you think? Should the FCC allow this?

UPDATE: You can also file comments directly with the FCC; the docket number is CG Docket No. 02-278.

By  |  April 19, 2006; 8:49 AM ET Consumer News
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I'm opposed to them doing this. I don't think they should allow automatic dialers for land lines, either, since I don't think they are careful enough. I say this because we had repeated calls over a period of a month from a collection agency, for the wrong person. They would call and we would get a recorded message that we should call a number back. When we did so they would put us on hold and then say that they were closed. They called us at a time that we couldn't call them! We left many messages telling them to call back with a person, and even threatened legal action. Finally we called at a time they were open and waited for 45 minutes (!) before we reached a person. The person that they were trying to find was no one we knew. We still got several calls after that, but they finally took us off the list. All of this happened when we had a small baby, who was awakened by all of the calls. It still makes me furious to think that they have all of the rights and none of the responsibilities. They don't have to be open when they call, they don't have to make sure they have the right person, they can put you on hold forever, and they don't have to worry at all about wasting hours of your time.

Posted by: Ms L | April 19, 2006 9:40 AM

sure, collectors should be able to auto dial cell phones, just as soon as cellphone minutes are free around the clock for both incoming and outgoing cell calls.

or if the collectors will automatically pay the price of the call directly to the cell phone company every time they dial, they won't have to wait until cell minutes are free. they can go ahead and auto dial now.

under no other circumstances should they be allowed to autodial consumers.

Posted by: slangwhanger-in-chief | April 19, 2006 9:45 AM

I had a legitimate debt which was being collected due to an error (debt repayment program used the wrong account number the first three or four payments to this credit card, and it took some time for it to be corrected). I made the mistake of providing my cell phone (my only phone) to the debt repayment program, who in turn provided it to the collections people. They called me fifteen or twenty times a week, and even though I explained the problem and that they were illegally calling me on a cell phone, they continued to do it, autodialing, sometimes not even being on the phone when I answered. I finally had to stop answering anything from their area code (215) because I was racking up lots of minutes during peak hours explaining this to fifteen different collectors a week. Ridiculous! They are harassing enough, without paying .35 a minute for their talking.

Posted by: Rebecca | April 19, 2006 9:55 AM

If I get a call from a debt collector, I expect a person to be on the other end of the call, not the "please hold for an important message" that never comes even when you do hold on. To get this on a cell phone, when the minutes are not free, is even more ludicrous.

Posted by: crf | April 19, 2006 10:15 AM

It would be great if Caroline or the Post could provide a link to the FCC comments area. I searched but I couldn't find it. That would really be an aid to consumers!

Posted by: Ms L | April 19, 2006 10:18 AM

If somebody is in debt and getting hounded by a collection agency, why do they have a cell phone? A cell phone is a luxury and the money is better spent paying off the debt.

Posted by: Non-debtor | April 19, 2006 10:27 AM

Chances are it will be pretty common that people being chased by debt collectors have defaulted on their cell phones and someone else already has the number. I know because get debt collection calls for the person who had my cell number before me.

I complained to Verizon and their lame solution was not to answer if I don't recognize the number. Great, then I have to wait until after 7:00 to check messages.

Posted by: No calls | April 19, 2006 10:34 AM

Sure, let them auto-dial as soon as the FCC makes cell phone carriers allow customers to block auto-dialed calls and unknown numbers! Better yet, replace the FCC with REAL consumers, not puppets to ideology and business interests.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | April 19, 2006 10:48 AM

RE: "Please hold for an important message"...

If the message was so important, they would have answered the phone live, instead of having you wait 10 seconds. Whenever I get that call, I hang the phone up. If you want to talk to me, you will talk to me live.

Posted by: vcthree | April 19, 2006 10:49 AM

Absolutely not. I have a disputed claim for about $300 with Dell Computers. I believe they did not properly account for one or more of my payments. I have told them this in two letters including Excell spreadsheets. I get no response to my letters but I get three to five calls every week from them on my land line. The calls have no cognitive content beyound "You owe us $300 dollars, please pay now."

This many dunning calls while driving would definately increase my driving risk. Multiply that risk by all the people who would get such calls and you have a new recipe for Highway Hamburger.

Also, have nothing to do with Dell Financial Services.

Posted by: CTV | April 19, 2006 10:49 AM

I have to oppose this, if only because, when I lived in a large townhome community in Ellicott City, I repeatedly got calls from a collection agency regarding someone in the same community whom I did not know. My address was (and I'm making up the numbers) 9621. The other person's was 9622. I was repeatedly called and asked, hey, can you go next door and give so and so a message to call this number. I explained the concept between odd and even numbered sides of the street, meaning the person did *not* live next door and the collections agents still didn't get it through their skulls. Finally, after getting one too many of these calls, I said, "Look, I don't know who this person is, I don't know how much is owed, but I hope you never get your money and I will never help you get it." With that, the calls ceased.

Posted by: Jack | April 19, 2006 11:13 AM

"If somebody is in debt and getting hounded by a collection agency, why do they have a cell phone? A cell phone is a luxury and the money is better spent paying off the debt."

If a person has a cell in addition to a landline, I agree. But many people have only cell phones, no landline--and if they're in debt and trying to get a job, they have to have a phone.

Posted by: NYC | April 19, 2006 11:14 AM

Welcome to the 21st century, New Debtor - the majority of people I know under the age of 30 don't even use land lines anymore. Why pay a phone company just to have a phone at your house, where you have to pay extra for voice mail and long distance? We get the Internet through the cable company and don't even bother with the land line folks. We use our cell phones as our primary phones, which has the added benefit of blocking almost all telemarketing calls as well. Cell phones haven't been luxury items in 10 years, particularly when you get one for free when you open an account.

I concur with Ms. L - it would be awesome for the Post or Ms. Mayer to put the link up to the FCC comments page, to make it easier for us to voice our opinions.

Posted by: lidia | April 19, 2006 11:18 AM

Lidia, "the majority of people I know under the age of 30 don't even use land lines anymore. Why pay a phone company just to have a phone at your house, where you have to pay extra for voice mail and long distance? We get the Internet through the cable company and don't even bother with the land line folks. We use our cell phones as our primary phones, which has the added benefit of blocking almost all telemarketing calls as well. Cell phones haven't been luxury items in 10 years, particularly when you get one for free when you open an account."

Then don't complain about getting calls on your cell phone.

Posted by: non-debtor | April 19, 2006 11:32 AM

Autodialing should not be allowed unless the collection agency pays for all calls made. Anyone who has ever dealt with a collection agency knows that debt collectors can make your life miserable, regardless of whether or not the debt is even legitimate. They profit from the self-righteous in society who see debtors as bad people who get what they deserve and so don't worry too much about how these "other" people are treated. Better look in a mirror: sickness, accidents, and job loss can happen to absolutely anyone. (And to the person making the snippy comment that cell phones are a luxury and all money should go toward paying bills: stop assuming so much. The cell phone could be the only phone they have, it could be required for their job, it could be given to them by a woman's shelter, it could be a way for a homeless person to have a number to give prospective employers. You just don't know.)

Posted by: SCB | April 19, 2006 11:37 AM

The idea that the debt collection industry would like to get a hold of cell phone numbers is disturbing. It is bad enough that we have to put up with annoying people discussing their personal and business lives within earshot of anyone. Now imagine if you will a debt collection call. Anger, yelling, disturbing the peace, distracted driving, etc., etc., etc.

Its bad enough that special interests were able to get a bad bankruptcy reform law passed now the same groups want to harass us, the consumer, with additional calls and make us pay for the privilege of doing so.

My response to these groups is BITE ME, If I wanted you to have my number I would give it to you. Stick to the methods that exist on how to contact people, don't add to it. So what's next harassment by e-Mail, or better yet showing up on our door steps to break our kneecaps. Or better yet, lets reintroduce debtors prisons.

Posted by: Chris | April 19, 2006 11:38 AM

Only if they plan to repay the debtor for the time they use. Cell phones are billed to the receiver where landlines initiate a call and to both sender and receiver when both are cell phones. Most landline accounts allow unlimited usage and none bill for received calls.

Posted by: perm3800 | April 19, 2006 11:39 AM

you bet they should be denied access to my or anybody's cell. I have it for my safety and security, not to facilitate some clod's invasion of my privacy. I don't get telemarketers calls and I don't get calls from anyone to whom I have not given my number personally. Let the debt collectors "hold for an important call" themselves.

Posted by: gdelmarm | April 19, 2006 12:48 PM

Here are two electronic ways file your comment on-line with the FCC (the docket number is 02-278):

1. You can type on a comment form (copy and paste this address into your webbrowser address space):

2. You can upload your comment in a MS Word or other word processor file (copy and paste this address into your webbrowser address space):

Posted by: Rhobbs, NCLC | April 19, 2006 1:01 PM

If you have only a cell phone but not a landline, that was your decision and you must live with the consequences (i.e. unwanted calls to your cell phone).

If you have a cell phone for safety (so if you breakdown or if your child needs to reach you) or from a women's shelter (so you can call the police) or whatever, then you shouldn't be giving out the number to anybody that doesn't need it (your kids, your family, etc.) Then, the creditors/collection agencies won't know your number can can't call you. If you put it down on an application for something then you deserve to get calls on it.

It's simple - you don't care about the cost of incoming calls, give people the number. You care about the cost of incoming calls, don't give out your number.

Posted by: Non-debtor | April 19, 2006 1:13 PM

I know personally how bad these collection people are . I got a cellphone and the first day i had it i was getting automated and live calls for someone else, and guess what no matter how much i pleaded with them that it was not me they cotinuied. Lucky for me it wasnt unlisted or would have had no recourse at all i called and told them it was not me and reminde them thAt phone numbers are used over and over. Since they wont even accept when they have called the wrong person i say NO WAY FCC who do work for us the taxpaying public or the collection lobby.

Posted by: Doug | April 19, 2006 1:19 PM

I had the misfortune of getting the landline number that previously belonged to a serious debtor. For two years I have received dozens of incorrect calls each week seeking out this person. The debt collectors use automated systems that don't leave a trace of their identity so that unless you happen to answer the phone live you're stuck in hang up pergatory. Each uses a database to track the people they're hunting down. I've called back (or looked up and found to call back) dozens of debt collectors with whom I've had to make multiple requests for them to correct their information. One debt collector had an automated system that would leave a lengthy message on my machine, without identifying who they were, how I could contact them, and with no number on caller ID. Since you asked me, I'd say that debt collectors should be subject to the Do Not Call Registry. I'd also say that there should be stiff penalties for collectors who call stale phone numbers trying to reach debtors.

Posted by: Laura | April 19, 2006 1:35 PM

Great. Another reason for my wife not to carry her phone or turn it on.

Yeah, we get calls on the landline for debts. Yeah, we have a cell phone. Given the number of hours spent commuting and taking care of ailing parents and pre-teen kids and the age of our vehicles, a cell phone is cheap insurance.

Autodialing the cell phone? It's just a way that collections folk can further harass. On the landline, my thought is that if a collections company uses an autodialer and does not pick up within the allocated time they shouldn't get a second bite out of the one call per day apple. It isn't my fault that you didn't hire enough outsourced people to answer your own outbound telephone calls.

Posted by: Dave | April 19, 2006 1:40 PM

Before this is allowed, Congress needs to address the issue of information security. Identity theft is prevalent in part because credit card companies and other information firms are careless about storing our personal data. Until there are laws putting restrictions on how they move and release data, this proposal would probably invite debt collectors to harass thousands of people who have done nothing wrong. These same companies trying to collect debt are sometimes the cause of identity theft.

Posted by: John | April 19, 2006 1:48 PM

Every time one of these auto dialers calls a cell phone doesn't that cost the cell phone owner money? So essentially these debt collectors would be helping add to the debt they seek to recover. This sounds like a stupendously bad idea.

Posted by: Mike | April 19, 2006 2:12 PM

I have never had an overdue debt, nor have I ever been the target of a debt collector. However, I have had SEVERAL telephone numbers that were previously assigned to serious debtors/deadbeats, and it is extraordinarly unpleasant to have to deal with this situation. The last landline telephone number I got for new service had 7 voicemail messages from debt collectors in the first 24 hours. I called the phone company and asked that the number be changed immediately, telling the rep why. He looked it up and was appalled that the number had only been out of service 10 days -- and the debtor owed the phone company too! On our current line, for many months we received debt collection calls for someone who had never had the telephone number -- she just made up one that happened to be ours! Debt collectors ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT be allowed to call cell phones. There should also be stiff penalties for debt collectors calling the wrong people and continuing to harass them after they have been told that the people they are calling are not the debtors.

Posted by: Layne | April 19, 2006 2:19 PM

Oh dear, non-debtor, you just have the answer to everything, don't you? Are you 100 % sure that the debt collection agencies can't get access to your cel phone number unless you give it to them?

Seriously, this is a problem from the point of view of the cost of answering the call. It isn't fair for a debt collection agency to increase your costs of living by adding costs to your phone bill....especially if -

I was out of work approximately 4 years ago. I had an auto repair credit card debt that I couldn't pay at the time. Once I got back on my feet, I have made arrangments to repay the debt on a monthly basis. The payment is always made when I say it's going to be made, I contact the office each month when I make my payment. Yet, every other month, I get several calls from someone from the collection agency who acts as if they are completely unaware of the payment arrangment, isn't aware of the person who is my contact at the company, and has to be gently guided to my account to be shown that I am doing as I said I would do. When I ask why they have called, since I am living up to my agreement, there is no sensible answer.

If the collection agencies had their act together, this might be a little easier to sallow, but they don't.

And, like so many other things that we are giving up, little by little, today, a person like non-debtor can say, "well, don't rack up debts, and then you don't have to worry". True enough, but each time we let some corporation invade our privacy a little more, that makes it easier for them to cross another line.

Posted by: John In Houston | April 19, 2006 2:22 PM

"Yet, every other month, I get several calls from someone from the collection agency who acts as if they are completely unaware of the payment arrangment, isn't aware of the person who is my contact at the company, and has to be gently guided to my account to be shown that I am doing as I said I would do. When I ask why they have called, since I am living up to my agreement, there is no sensible answer."

Because once the collection agencies get the account, they don't want you to pay through the original company--if you do that, they won't get any money, since they get a percentage of the collection. They want you to pay through *them*. (Which still doesn't explain why they're so stupid about getting the correct phone number, and not harrassing innocent people.)

Collection agencies are bottom dwellers, scum, like NYC apartment brokers. All they give a crap about is getting their pound of flesh.

Posted by: NYC | April 19, 2006 2:49 PM

Especially since a lot of these auto dialers are broken, and actually in violation of FCC rules already.

I've had several calls lately that will not release the line within 30 seconds of hanging up the phone. This is actually a law because this prevents people from making, say for example, an emergency call or something. But the point is, that there are companies (one is the Dominion electric power) that when you recieve one of these calls, there is no way you will be able to make any outgoing phone call until the entire seven and a half minute message is played out. A lot can happen in 7 and a half minutes, a child could begin choking (especially since the parent is now held hostage on the phone) or any number of things.

If I have to pay for 7.5 minutes, 3 or 4 times a day, 5 days a week until I can resolve a computer error on their part, I'm getting fined for refusing to pay for their error, so in effect, I'm gonna pay for their error no matter what. Because I guess I, personally, cannot afford a lobbyist and a congressman, I don't get any protections. I think that was why the created agencies like the FCC, FAA, FDA, but I guess I was mistaken, they aren't about protecting people, since we're not as economically viable or something.

Posted by: Eugene | April 19, 2006 4:07 PM

One more reason NOT to have a cell phone. The rest of us will surely appreciate it.

Posted by: Steve | April 20, 2006 10:18 AM

The fact of the matter is, you did not pay a bill for so long, that a debt collector is coming after you. Why shouldn't they be able to use any means necessary to get the money YOU OWE them? It's not their fault that you are irresponsible. If you lent a friend hundreds or thousands of dollars and s/he didn't pay you back on time, wouldn't you want to call s/he on their cell phone (or get in touch with them any way you could) to get what is owed to you? Take some responsibility, people. It's not the debt collectors fault that you don't pay your bills...

Posted by: jimmychonga | April 20, 2006 10:19 AM

The commets by the original non-debtor remind me of an annoying broken record. There are multiple issues here and he/she conflates them all. If you have a landline and a cell, the issue is the debt collection agencies attempting to gain access to cell numbers. I give a resounding hell no to that request.

The second issue which he/she can't seem to understand is that for those w/only a cell phone, the issue isn't neccesarrily calls to the cell. It's calls to the cell phone that aren't for the owner of the actual phone and the calls that take a lifetime because they're automated.

Get it?

Posted by: another non-debtor | April 20, 2006 11:47 AM

Something other things to consider:
1. The buying and selling of debt is big business. People often continue to receive calls from one agency when they've already settled (or arranged a re-payment plan) with another. Do these people deserve to be called on their cell phones?

2. If you co-signed for someone who's delinquent on a debt, the agency can come after you, too. Do you deserve to be called on your cell phone?

Posted by: mizbinkley | April 20, 2006 11:52 AM

jimmychonga must be a debt collector. His comment is brain dead. jimmychonga, just call us when you find a debt collector that nevere makes mistakes.

Comments like "don't get a cell phone" are moronic. Don't like getting into traffic accidents? Don't get a car--use a horse and buggy! Don't like medical bills? Just don't get sick. Don't like being mugged? Don't go outside. Don't like being dunned for debts owed by others? You should've decided to not be born. Don't like being dunned for debts you paid off yuears ago? Don't buy anything. Live in a cave and have no contact with the outside world.

Wow, jimmychonga, you're a real genius.

Posted by: Nick | April 20, 2006 2:02 PM

I don't think autodialers should be used for any commercial purpose.

When spammers send to my fax, it costs me.

When an autodialer calls my cell, it costs me, whether there's merit to their claim or not. (Ever been billed inappropriately? Ever have a collector confuse you with someone else who is similarly named?)

If someone wants to reach me, they'd better be a real person, not a computerized autodialer, so I can respond to a real person about their claims and intrusions. Automated message machines don't listen much.

I vote NO to the proposed change, and urge everyone else to do the same

Posted by: Mill_of_Mn | April 20, 2006 3:51 PM

No, I'm not a debt collector, Nick. Just a responsible person who pays my bills on time. And I understand that there are loopholes to the situation, such as for people who are being wrongfully called - I don't think there is any arguement about that. My comment, however, was obviously directed to people who got themselves in debt, didn't pay their bills, and are now complaining that the dept collectors are trying to get in touch with them.
And, by the way, I didn't say "don't get a cell phone." That was someone else.

Posted by: jimmychonga | April 21, 2006 11:11 AM

No one complained from 1992 to 2003 about calls to their cell phones. Phones were more expensive then and calling plans were out of control. It was not until the FCC overstepped their authority in 2003 in a mad rush to stop telemarketing calls did they create this issue. The FCC can fix the issue if they allow debt collection calls to cell phones. Otherwise, not only would there be debt collection calls, there would be telemarketers calling. Who wants that?

Posted by: TC | April 21, 2006 1:24 PM

One thing that the article didn't mention is that now that phone numbers are portable, from land line to cell, neither debt collectors nor anyone else can tell whether they are calling a cell number or a land line. There used to be a cell number registry, but with the advent of number portability, it has been rendered useless. Add this to the fact that many people only have cell phones and you can see why debt collectors would like to be able to call them. Many of the examples cited above describe harassment - that's already illegal under the FDCPA. Don't confuse allowing collectors to call cell phones with permitting harassment - harassment is always illegal. Also, note that if you submit a request in writing for a debt collector to cease communications, they must do so or you have a cause of action against them.

Posted by: gazoink! | April 21, 2006 1:32 PM

As a collection manager, I guess I do not understand why everyone thinks this is such a bad idea. To my knowledge you cannot go out and readily obtain cell phone numbers 95% of the cell phone numbers came to us from the person that owns the cell phone to begin with. All we are trying to do is get the person on the phone and try and collect what is owed, why should we be limited from calling them on their cell phones? I have to pay all of my bills, shouldn't they?

Posted by: Tony Colombo | April 24, 2006 10:55 AM

jimmychonga, where do you get off passing judgment on everyone in debt as "irresponsible?" What about people hit with catastrophic unexpected medical bills? What about people who suddenly get laid off from a job when they have families to provide for? You apparently have this fantasy vision that everyone in debt just carelessly ran their credit cards past the max so they could have boats and jewelry and now don't want to be bothered to pay their debts. I'm sure there are people like that, but for you to smugly tell us how much better you are than those who have had bad luck is arrogant beyond belief.

Posted by: SteveG | April 24, 2006 3:08 PM

Tony Colombo, I think the problem is what many people have described, getting incessant calls for the wrong person, or for debts that were paid or where plans have been agreed to, and the collections people won't stop calling even after repeated explanations. All of that costs the owner of the phone, who has to pay for every call that comes in, even those from irresponsible collections people who can't understand that I don't know, and never did know, the person they are trying to find.

Posted by: SteveG | April 24, 2006 3:11 PM

Here is the problem. I pay my bills. I have a cellphone account with T-mobile. The number was recycled after a previous subscriber cancelled his service and didn't take his number with him. Two years later, I still get messages for this guy. Even from his friends and family who don't listen to my voicemail greeting explicitly telling them the bozo no longer has this cellphone number. Now I'm supposed to be happy to pay for a machine to call me up looking for this clown who can't seem to pay his bills? I don't think so.

Posted by: Robert | April 25, 2006 11:24 AM

I understand people don't like to be harrased, nut in this case it may help to look at it from a different angle. Take a look at the debt to collection ratio. Where do they compensate for all the money not collected from debtors? It comes out of YOUR pocket. Debt collectors are your friends. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."

Posted by: Regan | September 21, 2006 2:28 PM

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