Proposed Legislation Would Permit Robo-Dialers to Call Cell Phones for Collection Purposes

In September 2011, a bill to update the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) was introduced in the House of Representatives. This bill, the Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011, will allow informational calls to cell phones using auto-dialers or robo-callers; clarify the “prior express consent” requirement; and continue the prohibition against the use of “assistive” technologies to call wireless numbers for telemarketing purposes.  “Prior express consent” is oral or written approval by a person, because of a business relationship or purchase, or by providing their phone number.

Telephone Consumer Protection Act

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (or TCPA) permits calls between 8 AM and 9 PM local time and telemarketers have to comply with requests to not call them again.  This Act does not cover harassment calls, which are covered by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA); it basically covers calling. Debt collections agencies can contact cell phones to collect debt now, but can’t use robo-calls.  They can make robo-calls to landlines, but not to cell phones.

Mobile informational Call Act

The Mobile informational Call Act is supported by many associations and agencies such as the American Collectors Association, American Bankers Association, Air Transport Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  These and many other industries rely on assistive technologies to notify consumers about threats such as data breaches and fraud alerts; appointments; drug recalls and debt collection.

Federal Government Debt Collection Bill

President Obama’s $3 trillion deficit reduction plan submitted to Congress in September included something similar to the Mobile Informational Call Act. It will allow private debt collectors to use robo-calling to call cell phones for the purpose of collecting money owed to the government. The largest government debt is student loans.  Of the $35.9 billion of debt referred to 22 private collection agencies in 2010, $28.8 billion or 80% was from the Education Department.

White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters the proposal is “just an acknowledgement of the fact that a lot of people have abandoned landlines and only have cell phones. As a matter of practicality, if they need to be contacted with regard to their debt, there has to be a way to contact them.”

This bill received 50 of the 60 votes needed to pass the Senate on October 11. This bill isn’t dead yet. “Tonight’s vote is by no means the end of this fight,” argued President Obama in a statement released after the vote. “And we will now work with Senator Reid to make sure that the individual proposals in this jobs bill get a vote as soon as possible,” Obama added.

Both the private and public sectors want to permit robo-callers to cell phones to collect debts.  The rules regarding harassment still apply per the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.  Make sure you know your rights.  As landlines become a thing of the past, more laws will be changed to reflect cell phone use.

Credit Expert, John Ulzheimer, is the President of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com, the credit blogger for Mint.com, and a Contributor for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.  He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry.  Follow him on Twitter here.

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