When it comes to debt collection, there are numerous things to be afraid of: the broad and conflicting interpretation of the FDCPA, predatory plaintiff attorneys, ever-changing and increasing compliance requirements; the list could go on. But there is one thing that should be the scariest for everyone involved in debt collection that supersedes all the aforementioned. That is call-blocking technology. While call-blocking technology isn’t new and has been around for well over a decade, it is within the last several years that it has been taken to a whole new level, especially with the government and the FTC’s interest in allowing consumers to choose which calls they want to receive versus those they don’t.
While on the surface, having consumers choose which calls they want to receive versus those they don’t might not sound too problematic, but when you begin to drill down on how to accomplish this, one can be quick to change their tune. Few would argue that consumers should not have to receive “unwarranted” calls, but “unwarranted” has now manifested to “unwanted” and this is where the subject gets murky. What constitutes “unwarranted” versus “unwanted,” likewise, warranted versus wanted? For this article, we are going to define warranted calls in the context by which the consumer has an expressed business relationship with entities such as their finance company, airline, pharmacy or even children’s school, as examples. Calls made by telemarketers with whom the consumer has no prior business relationship nor was their information provided would constitute “unwarranted.” You could poll many different individuals and probably get back many different interpretations of what they considered wanted versus unwarranted. Why should those involved in debt collection not just be afraid, but be very afraid? The answer is simple; on top of callblocking technology, it’s increasingly difficult to reach a consumer by phone as the ARM industry has seen decreases year over year in right party contact percentages.
There are several ways call-blocking technology works. While there are smart phone apps available that allow consumers to arbitrarily block phone numbers that call them, or in some cases, send those calls directly to voicemail, phone companies or third party entities can get involved and block calls based on what they feel may be an “unwarranted” (or unwanted) phone call. The latter is what is most concerning from my perspective.
If a consumer decides to put any caller on their personal call-blocking list, that is their prerogative. Ultimately, if time sensitive information generally conveyed in a debt collection call doesn’t make its way to the consumer, the consumer must accept personal responsibility for this inability to communicate. However, when the government or a private business prevents time sensitive information from being conveyed to a consumer, a line must be drawn in the sand. Think about this from a highlevel perspective regardless of whether you’re a debt collector or a consumer. Do you think it is fair? Does it seem legal? Whose best interest is really served in having a private business serve as the gatekeeper and subjectively determine if a call goes through to a consumer’s phone or is blocked?
That is the very conundrum we find ourselves with today. A private business already has some capability of blocking any calls they want or deem “unwanted.” As time goes on they will continue to gain market share with telephone providers. As they do, more and more “warranted” but maybe “unwanted” calls will be blocked from ever going through. Today, debt collection companies are being negatively impacted by this as their calls are not going through to the consumers phone they are calling even though intentions are to help them resolve their outstanding debts. In looking through their result files, agencies are seeing their telephony provider send them records indicating the phone call was blocked due to “scam” or “spam.” I would highly recommend everyone check their telephony return files and see if you are getting the same records back. If not, work with their telephony provider to ensure you are notified when such records do occur. The bottom line is right now, a private business with support of the government, notably the FTC, serves as judge, jury and executioner as to whether your legitimate and warranted phone calls will even make it through to the consumer’s phone. That alone is why we should be afraid, very afraid of not just where this very issue stands today, but where it may manifest to tomorrow.
Now is the time for a call to action for not just debt collection companies and creditors, but every business that operates utilizing the telephone in a call center capacity to educate themselves on what is transpiring. Once you educate yourself and colleagues, it is imperative that you take the time to speak with your local, state, and federal legislators to explain what is occurring and just how wrong it is along with what alternatives are available. I would also highly encourage everyone to reach out to the FCC and the FTC whom both have shown a vested interest in this matter to explain your concerns and most importantly be heard.
Contact the FTC through one of the methods listed on its website: https://www.ftc.gov/faq/ftc-info/file-comment.
Contacting the FCC can be done through several methods. First, you can file comments in Docket 17-59, Advanced Methods to Target and Eliminate Unlawful Robocalls, or Docket 02-278, Implementation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, when there are open comment cycles relevant to these particular issues. Currently, there are no open comment cycles in these dockets.
Second, since each of these dockets is subject to the “permit-but-disclose” ex parte rules, you can file a letter on an ex parte basis in these dockets. The filing must comply with the Commission’s ex parte rules. Information about the ex parte rules, including a link to the rules, is here: https://www.fcc.gov/proceedings-actions/ex-parte. In addition to making the official filing, preferably through the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) (the ECFS is here: https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/)
Nick Jarman is the owner of RightAway Consulting & Coaching. Jarman served the last three years on the Board of Directors for ACA International and is the past President of the Missouri Collectors Association.