Text messages, along with emailing and direct messages on social media, are allowed as part of an update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The rule changes were drafted and implemented by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to modernize the guidelines first issued more than 40 years ago, well before text, email and social media existed.
THE NEW RULES REQUIRE A WAY TO OPT OUT
To contact you by text, debt collectors must follow two basic requirements (which also apply to phone calls, email, and social media DMs):
- They can only get in touch during reasonable hours, 8am to 9pm.
- Every message must include instructions for a simple, easy-to-use way you can opt out of receiving future communication through that method.
Beyond those two rules, there’s no limit on the number of texts a debt collector can send you. To be prepared, it’s important to know your rights and your options, including ways to make sure the message is really from a debt collector and not a scam artist.
IF YOU GET A TEXT ABOUT A DEBT, VERIFY IT’S LEGITIMATE
Like every other form of communication, texting has become a tool of choice for scammers looking to fool recipients into sharing personal and financial information.
If you receive a text purporting to be from a debt collector, do not share personal or sensitive information via text message, especially if it’s from someone you do not know. Instead, ask for validating details so you can confirm the debt and the person texting you are legitimate.
Under the CFPB rules, debt collectors must provide details that validate a debt, either at the first point of contact or within five days after the first conversation. The validation information they send you must include:
- The name of the current creditor
- Instructions on how to obtain contact information for the original creditor if the debt has been sold
- The amount of money owed
In addition, you should request the name and contact information for the collection agency in case that’s different from the current creditor.
If the debt information is not familiar, the next step is to get a copy of your credit report, which will list any current debts that you owe. Every consumer is entitled to receive a free copy of their credit report each year from each of the major credit reporting bureaus. Visit annualcreditreport.com to request your free copy.
Once you get your credit report, check to see if the debt cited in the text message is on the list. If it’s there, look for the name of the collection agency that contacted you. If that agency is listed, it’s very likely the debt and the debt collector is legitimate.
But what if the collection agency isn’t listed in the credit report, or something about it seems off? In that case, contact the original creditor to ask if the debt was sold or for the name of the firm contracted to collect on the debt. If your debt was sold multiple times, you may need to trace back each change of hands to make sure you end up speaking with the right collection agency.
HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH DEBT COLLECTORS
If you’ve validated the debt and confirmed the debt collector who texted you is legitimate, you can decide if and how to respond. Options include:
- Continuing the conversation via text message
- Calling the debt collector directly
- For larger debt collection agencies, using their website chat tool to communicate with representatives
Most debt collectors will allow you to set up a repayment plan. If you’re able to make a lump sum payment, you may want to negotiate a debt settlement for less than the full balance, which the debt collector may be willing to accept depending on your type of debt.
An important step to take before a conversation is understanding your state’s statutes of limitations on debt. Each state has its own laws detailing how long you are legally responsible for old, unpaid debts, and it’s worth your time to do a bit of research to be informed about your situation.
Whatever way you choose to communicate, be sure to take notes about each exchange, including who said what and any agreement you reach. If you agree to a settlement or repayment plan, ask for the full details in writing so you have confirmation of it.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS: WHAT TO DO IF DEBT COLLECTORS DON’T FOLLOW THE RULES
If a debt collector continues to text after you have opted out, keep a record of your interactions with that person – the dates, times, and messages exchanged. That record will support your case if you decide to file a complaint, which you can do at the federal or state level:
- The Federal Trade Commission, at reportfraud.ftc.gov
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at consumerfinance.gov/complaint
- Your state’s attorney general at consumerresources.org/file-a-complaint (click the map for your state)
TO MAKE YOUR CASE, BE SURE TO SUBMIT THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION:
- Your record of interactions with the debt collector
- The date and time of when you opted out of text message, ideally with screenshots showing the request submission
Lastly, keep in mind that conversations with debt collectors can be challenging. Don’t allow yourself to be bullied or pushed around.
Remember that you have rights, and debt collectors must follow the law. While it’s perfectly normal to feel guilty or downhearted about having debt in the collection process, your situation is more common than you may realize – and no one deserves to be treated poorly as a result.