Magazine article American Banker

Top Democrat Pushes for More Restrictions on Debt-Collection Calls

Magazine article American Banker

Top Democrat Pushes for More Restrictions on Debt-Collection Calls

Article excerpt

Byline: Kevin Wack

The Federal Communications Commission can't escape robo-calls. Just like the rest of us.

Last summer, the FCC issued broad new rules meant to resolve a host of questions about when banks and other companies are allowed to make auto-dialed calls to U.S. consumers. But the regulations did not put the issue to rest.

The FCC's rules, which were unpopular with industry groups, are now being challenged in federal court. Banks wanted a release from liability when they inadvertently reach the wrong person, but the FCC granted an exemption only for the first wrong-number call. The rules cover a range of robo-calling activities and the industry also wanted, but failed to get, a break with respect to debt collection.

At the same time, robo-calls are back on the FCC's agenda after Congress passed a law exempting collectors of government-backed debt from a requirement that callers get consumers' consent for the calls.

The November 2015 law was designed to make it easier to collect on federally backed student loans. Congress ordered the FCC to write regulations to implement the exemption.

But on Wednesday, the top Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee asked the FCC to include a range of consumer protections in the new rules. Specifically, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, wants the FCC to limit the number and duration of calls that can be made under the exemption. He is also asking the agency to give consumers the ability to request that the calls be stopped.

"While it is important to ensure that the federal government can effectively collect on debt it is owed, it is also important to ensure that the federal government is not itself an instrument to harass and mistreat individuals through robo-calls," Brown wrote in a letter to FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler. …

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