Friday, January 16th, 2015
January 15, 2015
Chairman Tom Wheeler
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly
Commissioner Ajit Pai
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW
Washington DC 20554
Re: CG Docket No. 02-278
Dear Commissioners Wheeler, Clyburn, O’Rielly, Pai and Rosenworcel:
The undersigned national, state and community groups write this letter to request that
consumer protections for the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) be maintained.
Congress passed the TCPA more than two decades ago to protect consumers from receiving
annoying robocalls to cell phones, calls which invade privacy and disrupt lives. The TCPA requires
that the owner of a cell phone provide consent to a business to call – or text – when using an
autodialer (except for emergency purposes). Currently, robocalls (or texts) to cell phones are illegal
unless the cell phone owner has provided consent. This basic protection remains essential at a time
when so many people, particularly low-income people, rely on their cell phones as their primary –
and sole – means of communications. Many of these low-income cell phone users cannot afford to
waste valuable minutes on their cell phones to field unwanted robocalls and texts for which they
have not given prior consent.
We understand that the FCC is currently considering issuing new rules that would provide
exemptions and safe harbors for businesses that use autodialers to call or text cell phones. For
example, the debt collection and banking industries want the FCC to allow “wrong party” robocalls
to cell phones without liability. If these exemptions were permitted, then it would not be the person
who had provided consent who would receive the intrusive calls or texts on their cell phone.
Instead, it would be the innocent bystander who may have obtained a new telephone number and
never gave consent for these calls, or who has no relationship whatsoever to either the caller or the
party who provided consent.
Maintaining strong protections against these calls creates incentives for the industry to
develop methods to avoid harassing people who have not agreed to be called on their cell phones.
Companies can use available technology to determine whether cell phone numbers were transferred
to new users. Businesses could use these technologies before calling new cell phone numbers.
Instead, they want the right to continue robocalling wrong numbers, without liability.
The proposed changes that the FCC is considering will open the floodgates for “wrong
number” calls to cell phones. This would not only be an improper interpretation of the TCPA, but it
would gut essential privacy rights of cell phone users. Only with strong remedies imposed on2
industry for calling or texting wrong numbers (even when they have been reassigned to new users),
will the industry be incentivized to create and use technologies and methodologies to ensure they are
calling the person who actually gave consent to receiving autodialer calls and texts on their cell
The fact remains, consumers hate unwanted calls and texts. Since 2003, over 223 million
Americans have attempted to preserve their privacy by putting their phone numbers on the National
Do Not Call Registry.
1 Despite having this program in place, the FTC reported 3,748,655
telemarketing complaints in 2013, of which at least 2,182,161 were reported as including a recorded
message.2 The FCC similarly reports a dramatic increase in complaints with the number of robocall
complaints doubling in the past two years to over 100,000 filed in 2012.3
Given the fact that these
alleged violations have increased exponentially since the TCPA was enacted, the FCC should not be
attempting to weaken the current protections.
We understand that there will be meetings this week between some groups and the staff of
the Commissioners, and while most of us are unable to attend these meetings, we write to endorse
the messages to be conveyed in these meetings:
On behalf of consumers throughout the United States, please –
• Do not reduce the consumer protections of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.
• Ensure that industry callers using autodialers to make calls or send texts to cell phones are
fully liable when they call wrong numbers and reach consumers who have not provided
consent for those calls.
• Maintain the current system of liability for wrong number calls to create incentives for these
industry callers to create reliable technologies to enable them to avoid wrong number calls.
We hope that the FCC will resist the pressure from business and industry trade groups to
weaken rules that require accuracy when sending robocalls to cell phones. Repeated unauthorized
calls and texts to consumers’ cell phones invade privacy and cost money by using their precious
minutes or limited text allowances.
Thank you for your consideration of our views. If you have any questions, please contact
Margot Saunders at the National Consumer Law Center, firstname.lastname@example.org (202 452-6252,
extension 104) or Ellen Taverna at that the National Association of Consumer Advocates,
email@example.com (202 452-1989, extension 109).
1 Federal Trade Commission, Nat’l Do Not Call Registry Data Book FY 2013, at 4 (Dec. 4, 2013) (available at
2 Id. at 5. 3 Statement of Eric J. Bash, FCC Enforcement Bureau Associate Chief, at Hearing Before the Senate Committee
on Commerce, Science, and Transportation’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance,
Stopping Fraudulent Robocall Scams: Can More Be Done?3
National Advocacy Organizations
Americans for Financial Reform (AFR)
Center for Digital Democracy
Consumer Federation of America
Economic Opportunity Studies
National Association for State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA)
National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Consumer Law Center on behalf of its low-income clients
National Consumers League
National Housing Law Project
National Legal Aid & Defender Association
National Senior Citizens Law Center
New America’s Open Technology Institute
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
The Institute for College Access & Success4
State and Community Advocacy Organizations
Consumer Federation of California
Santa Monica, CA
Housing and Economic Rights Advocates
Sacramento Employment and Training Agency
San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program, Inc.
San Diego, CA
TURN-The Utility Reform Network
San Francisco, CA
Florida Alliance for Consumer Protection
Florida Legal Services
HOPE Outreach Center, Inc.
Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc.
Legal Aid Service of Broward County, Inc.
Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc.
Chinese American Service League
Chinese Mutual Aid Association
LAF (formerly the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago)
Rural Broadband Policy Group
Better Business Bureau of Northeast Louisiana,
Massachusetts Consumer Coalition
Consumer Assistance Council, Inc.
Disability Law Center,
Metrowest Legal Services
Maryland Office of People’s Counsel
Public Justice Center
Mid Minnesota Legal Assistance
Open Access Connections
St. Paul, MN
Graceful Seniors LLC
Toms River, NJ
Legal Services of New Jersey
Long Term Care Community Coalition
New York, NY6
MFY Legal Services, Inc.
New York, NY
Financial Guidance Center
Las Vegas, NV
Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, Inc.
Las Vegas, NV
Legal Services of Southern Piedmont
North Carolina Justice Center
Pisgah Legal Services
Consumer Protection Association
Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy
Pro Seniors, Inc.
Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma
Oklahoma City, OK
South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center
Fleet & Family Support Center
Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability
Texas Legal Services Center
Tidewater Community College’s Center for Military and Veteran Education
Virginia Citizens Consumer Council
Virginia Poverty Law Center
Alliance for a Just Society
Northwest Consumer Law Center
Fairmont-Morgantown Housing Authority (FMHA)
Mountain State Justice
Wednesday, January 14th, 2015
Sixth Circuit Rules Against Collection Agency in FDCPA Out-of-Statute Debt Collection Case
Jan 13, 2015
From ACA International
Court reverses district court decision in Buchanan holding that an offer to settle a stale debt may misleadingly imply a threat of litigation in violation of the FDCPA.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 ruling in Buchanan v. Northland Group, Inc., No. 13-2523 (6th Cir., Jan. 13, 2015), on Jan. 13, 2015. The ruling reversed the trial court’s dismissal of a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) action that challenged a dunning (collection) letter offering to settle a debt subject to the statute of limitations.
At issue in the Buchanan appeal was the district court’s decision that a debt collector does not mislead a consumer and therefore does not violate the FDCPA by making a settlement offer to collect a debt without disclosing that the statute of limitations for filing a collection lawsuit has expired.
Contrary to the district court’s decision, the Sixth Circuit ruled that a settlement offer to resolve an unpaid debt at a discount without disclosing that the statute of limitations had run on the debt could possibly mislead a “reasonable unsophisticated consumer” into thinking her debt is enforceable in court.
In so ruling, the court remarked that “when a dunning letter creates confusion about a creditor’s right to sue, that is illegal,” under the FDCPA. The court also noted that “[a] misrepresentation about the limitations period amounts to a ’straightforward’ violation of [the FDCPA],” citing the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals decision in McMahon v. LVNV Funding, LLC, 744 F.3d 1010, 1020 (7thCir.2014).
Since the Sixth Circuit found that the question of whether a letter is deceptive and misleading is a question of fact that should be determined by a jury, the court remanded the Buchanan case back to the trial court for further proceedings to allow the consumer to present evidence that she was misled, confused and deceived by the collection agency’s letter.
Daniel A. Edelman argued the case for the consumer
Monday, January 12th, 2015
The Obama administration has adopted sweeping new rules to discourage nonprofit hospitals from using aggressive tactics to collect payments from low-income patients.
Under the rules, nonprofit hospitals must now offer discounts, free care or other financial assistance to certain needy patients. Additionally, hospitals must try to determine whether a patient is eligible for assistance before they refer a case to a debt collector, send negative information to a credit agency, place a lien on a patient’s home, file a lawsuit or seek a court order to seize a patient’s earnings.
The rules, issued at the end of 2014 by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, lay out detailed requirements for nonprofit hospitals that have or want tax-exempt status, about 60 percent of hospitals nationwide.
The rules, published in the Federal Register on Dec. 31, address a peculiar feature of hospital finances: For decades, uninsured patients have been required to pay much more than Medicaid, Medicare and private insurers pay for the same services. Uninsured patients were often the only ones who paid full “list prices” at hospitals.
Under the rules, patients eligible for financial assistance cannot be charged more than “the amounts generally billed” to people who have insurance through a government program or a private carrier.
The rules clarify broadly worded provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Under the rules, each nonprofit hospital must assess the health needs of its community at least once every three years and take steps to address those needs. Hospitals that do not meet this requirement may be subject to a tax penalty of $50,000.
In addition, each nonprofit hospital must establish and publicize a written policy stating who is eligible for financial assistance and how people can apply.
Hospitals often go to court to collect unpaid bills. Their collection practices have been documented in hundreds of court decisions around the country. In many cases, the basic facts are not disputed: A patient received care. The hospitals often win by default because the patients do not show up in court.
The rules generally require nonprofit hospitals to give consumers at least 120 days before taking “extraordinary collection actions,” which include reporting debts to credit bureaus and using debt collection agencies.
Illinois statutes already impose restrictions on the ability of any hospital to collect debts without offering a payment plan and financial assistance.
Monday, January 12th, 2015
Better Business Bureau of Acadiana is warning consumers to beware of companies that falsely promise quick credit repair, often for high fees.
“Local and national companies are claiming to be able to erase bad credit for upfront fees of $250 or more. Some even charge monthly fees after the first fee. The BBB has great concerns about companies in the credit repair industry that make promises they can’t keep,” said Sharane Gott with the agency.
She said nobody can erase bad credit.
“Consumers can have credit reporting errors corrected, but if it is a valid debt, it is reportable. No one can make bad credit scores simply disappear,” Gott said.
She said numerous companies claim they can clean up your credit report so you can obtain a car loan, a home mortgage or even get a job.
“Based on BBB experiences, these companies can’t deliver,” Gott said. “The truth is, no one can legally remove accurate and timely negative information from a credit report.”
Not only are these companies making promises they can’t deliver, she said they are charging a great deal of money for a free service you can do yourself.
“The law does allow you to request a reinvestigation of information in your file that you dispute as inaccurate or incomplete. There is no charge for this. Everything a credit repair clinic can do for you legally, you can do for yourself at little or no cost,” Gott said.
“According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if you’ve been denied credit within the last 30 days. You can also dispute mistakes or outdated items for free,” Gott said.
She advised people to:
•Avoid any company that wants you to pay for credit repair services before they provide any services. It is against the law.
•Avoid any credit repair company that will not tell you your legal rights and what you can do yourself for free.
•Avoid any credit repair company that tells you not to directly contact a credit reporting company.
•Avoid any credit repair company that advises you to dispute all of the information in your credit report.
•Avoid any company that tells you it can get rid of most or all the negative credit information in your credit report, even if that information is accurate and current.
•Avoid any company that suggests creating a new credit identity or applying for an Employer Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security number. This is illegal, and it leaves consumers open to prosecution for fraud.
“You can improve your credit report, but it takes time, a conscious effort and sticking to a personal debt repayment plan,” Gott said.
To rebuild your credit, she advises starting by establishing credit.
“A good credit history is essential. If you don’t have any credit cards, you might consider opening an account, using it sparingly and paying it off at the end of the month. Someone with no credit cards tends to be regarded as higher risk than someone who has managed credit cards responsibly,” Gott said.
“Consumers are entitled to one free report from each of the three companies, from annualcreditreport.com. It is vital to check these reports for inaccuracies and dispute any errors,” Gott said. “Checking your credit reports does not affect your score.”
People should also pay off their debt rather than move it around, she said. “Shuffling debt around from one line of credit to a new one can be a problem.”
To pay off your debt, she advises paying off the highest balances first. “Though you may be tempted to pay off smaller balances first, paying down a large balance on a particular line of credit may raise your score, because it represents the freeing-up of a larger portion of your available credit,” Gott said.
And finally, don’t hide. “If you are over your head in debt, contact your creditors. If you can start managing your credit and paying on time, your score should increase over time. Seeking assistance from a credit counseling service will not hurt your credit score,” Gott said.
Friday, January 9th, 2015
Consumer Alert: Scammers Claiming to Represent Advance America Target Illinois ConsumersCompany offers tips for avoiding payday loan and debt collection scams
SPARTANBURG, S.C., Jan. 8, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — Advance America, a national provider of payday loans and other financial services, has recently become aware of a new wave of scams targeting consumers in Illinois. These scam artists, posing as Advance America representatives to collect money from unsuspecting consumers, are in no way affiliated with the company.
Over the past few weeks, in particular, scammers have contacted Illinois residents claiming that they have been pre-approved for a loan, and then asking them to purchase a prepaid debit card or wire money as a “processing fee” or “good faith deposit.” In other cases, scammers seek to collect on “unpaid” payday loan debt, often threatening arrest or legal action or demanding personal financial information over the phone.
“Scammers often use the reputation of a legitimate, respected business to con victims out of their money,” said Patrick O’Shaughnessy, president and CEO of Advance America. “Legitimate payday lenders such as Advance America are highly regulated at both the state and federal level and will never use the kind of fraudulent and illegal tactics employed by scam artists.”
Advance America urges consumers to identify the warning signs of financial fraud and follow these tips for avoiding payday loan and debt collection scams. If individuals suspect being scammed, they should report it immediately to local law enforcement and to the lender that the scammer claims to represent. Advance America customers can call 888-310-4238.
Learn the signs of a scam
Federal law strictly regulates how real bill collectors and loan agents can do business. The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) specifically prohibits debt collectors from being abusive, unfair or deceptive in trying to collect a debt. The law specifically says debt collectors cannot threaten consumers with arrest or jail time if they don’t pay their bill. If someone claims you will face criminal prosecution unless you immediately wire them money, it’s almost certainly a scam.
Scammers may also claim that you have been pre-approved for a loan, and then require you to purchase a prepaid debit card or wire money as a “processing fee” or “good faith deposit.” Others may really be identity thieves out to get your personal or financial information.
How to Avoid Scams:
In addition to understanding how lenders and bill collectors can operate, consumers should also take steps to protect themselves, including:
- Never give personal information such as your Social Security number or bank account information online or over the phone without verifying that you are working with a legitimate lender or bill collector. To verify, call the establishment back using a known number, such as the number listed on your statement or on the back of your credit/debit card.
- Be suspicious of any email with urgent requests for personal financial information. If an email demands immediate action or makes upsetting or exciting false statements, it’s likely a scam.
- Verify company licenses when applying for a loan online. Legitimate lenders will display state licenses on their websites to verify that they are full-service, licensed lenders complying with state and federal laws.
- Never wire money or provide prepaid debit card information to a lender claiming you have been pre-approved for a loan and must make an initial payment as a “show of good faith.”
- Keep anti-virus, anti-malware, and spam email protection software up to date on all your computing devices.
- Maintain a record of all outstanding debt, and include lender contact information.
- Regularly check your bank, credit and debit card statements to ensure there are no unauthorized transactions. Likewise, check your credit report (using Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) every four months on a rotating basis; credit reports are often one of the first places where signs of identity theft or fraud will appear.
- If someone approaches you claiming you owe them a debt, demand they provide written proof of the debt as the law requires – especially if it’s for a charge you don’t recognize.