Consumers Union Urges FCC to Adopt Strong Rule to Limit the Robocall Debt Collection Loophole

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (June 7, 2016) – Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, urged the Federal Communications Commission to adopt the strongest rule possible to curb robocalls from debt collectors in comments filed with the agency. Consumers Union’s comments were submitted in response to a proposal made by the FCC in May to implement the debt collection loophole Congress created last year to the federal law governing robocalls.

“The last thing Americans want is more robocalls on their phones,” said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Unfortunately, Congress opened the door to more robocalls on cell phones last year by weakening current law with this misguided loophole. We’re pleased that the FCC has proposed strict limits on these calls to protect consumers from even more robocall harassment.”

In addition to filing its own comments to the FCC, Consumers Union collected comments and petition signatures from nearly 20,000 consumers who urged the regulator to limit robocalls on cell phones.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act currently prohibits most non-emergency robocalls to cell phones but a provision of the budget bill would weaken the law by allowing debt collectors to make such calls when the debt is owed to, or even just guaranteed by, the federal government. Under the provision passed by Congress, debt collectors could make harassing robocalls to millions of Americans with education, mortgage, tax, and other federally-backed debt. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, the debt collection loophole would only actually generate an estimated $500,000 per year at the most for the federal government over the next ten years.

To make matters worse, the provision could allow robocalls not only to those who owe debt, but also their family, references, and even to someone who happens to get assigned a phone number that once belonged to someone who owed debt.

Under the FCC’s proposed rule, debt collectors would be limited to making just three robocalls or texts each month to the debtor, and would still be prohibited from contacting the debtor’s family members or references. Debt collectors would be required to inform consumers that they had the right to ask that the calls cease and must honor those requests. And debt collectors would be allowed to make robocalls and texts only when a debt is delinquent.

For the past year, Consumers Union’s End Robocalls campaign (www.endrobocalls.org) has worked to bring relief to consumers fed up with robocalls. The campaign has mobilized hundreds of thousands of consumers across the country to demand that the nation’s top phone companies offer their customers free call-blocking tools to stop unwanted robocalls. So far, over 600,000 people have signed Consumers Union’s petition urging AT&T, CenturyLink, and Verizon to take action.

Consumers Union can connect reporters with consumers who have been harassed by robocalls made by debt collectors, including consumers who did not owe money and were repeatedly called in error. For more information, contact Michael McCauley, mmccauley@consumer.org or 415-902-9537.

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Consumers Union is the public policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports. Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.