The agency charged with protecting Americans from the wrath of scuzzy financial institutions—the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—provoked blips of outrage earlier this year when it published something that may sound, let’s be honest, deeply, astoundingly boring to you at first. Unfortunately, dear friends, that’s sort of the point.
Only, the dreary thing the CFPB published—a proposal to change the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—is actually pretty horrifying. If you have a mobile phone and if you are in debt, or if you know anybody who is (you do!!), then you should be angry. Like viciously angry.
As a handful of Democratic lawmakers noted earlier this year, the agency’s proposed changes include a new go-ahead for debt collectors to ceaselessly blast your phone with texts about debts until you opt out. And currently, the proposed changes don’t even force debt collectors to make it easy and quick for you to opt out (though the Federal Trade Commission has advocated for them to do so).
The lawmakers wrote (emphasis ours, here and below):
By allowing debt collectors to send consumers unlimited text messages and emails without first receiving affirmative consent for such a method of communication, the proposed rule permits collectors to overwhelm consumers with intrusive communications.
Before the CFPB stopped collecting comments on its proposal, a privacy advocacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), sent in a blistering (albeit wordy) takedown of the plan. EPIC’s comments were resurfaced today on Twitter by the Americans for Financial Reform coalition. Among its many complaints, EPIC wrote:
Allowing debt collectors to text message consumers during workplace hours undermines the web of regulations and restrictions on workplace calls. Congress created a variable legal framework that regulates workplace calls, allowing them in some circumstances and disallowing them in others. Failing to place limits on text messages would allow debt collectors to bypass the regulations that they otherwise face regarding contacting consumers in the workplace.
EPIC’s dystopic outline goes on:
If the proposed rule is implemented as it currently stands, debt collectors will employ near constant text messages and voicemails to harass consumers […] By only using language permitted under the proposed definition of “limited content message,” debt collectors will escape liability for inappropriate behaviors such as third-party disclosures. They can text or leave a message for any phone number that could possibly be the consumer and be free from liability even if the number is in fact owned by a third-party and the consumers debt collection status is thus disclosed to that party. Depending on who receives, views, or hears the message, these types of disclosures can result in severe personal consequences such as marital distress or termination of employment. Without FDCPA-liability, there is no reason for debt collectors to invest in avoiding third-party disclosures or restrain their messages in any way.
You can further enrage yourself by reading EPIC’s full comment on the matter here. The CFPB is no longer accepting comments on the proposal, but it’s never too late to hit up your representatives about it.