Debt Collectors calling your Cell? What is the TCPA?

A lot of people think it is OK for a bill collectors and salespeople to call or text you on your cell. Well, most of the time, a lot of times it’s not…and it can cost them $500 to $1500 a call under the Federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act or TCPA.

Few people know about the TCPA   It was passed by the United States Congress over 20 years ago. The law says, in a nutshell,

  • companies, not just debt collectors and your creditors,
  • can’t call or text your cellphone
  • with an autodialer (ATDS) or with a pre-recorded message
  • without your consent and if they do
  • it’s $500- $1500 for each call or text made, whether you answer it or not.

But there are 2 small catches

  • The calls have to be from an auto dialer (which isn’t an issue if it’s a pre-recorded message) I’ll talk about that more in a minute and here’s the important one
  • You can’t have given them express consent.

How do you give them express consent?

Often when you got the credit card or bought the thing they are now going after you to pay for, you put a phone number on the application. If you put your cell number, the one they’re calling you on, then you gave express consent and they are not breaking the law by calling you. In some instances you can revoke your consent. While some courts have said verbal or oral revoking is good I would put it writing and send it certified mail return receipt requested, just to make sure.

If you call them back with your cell that’s not prior  express consent.

What’s an auto dialer or ATDS and how do you know they’re calling with one of those? (Again, not an issue if its a pre-recorded message.)

Short answer you don’t absolutely know. But most of the industry uses them and usually you can tell when you phone rings and you answer it and there’s a short delay before your hear anything, that probably an automatic telephone dialing system or auto dialer, for short. Odds are if you are getting one of these calls or texts on your cell it’s a company using an auto dialer.

Other laws like the FDCPA or Fair Debt Collection practices Act apply to what most people would consider harassing calls to land lines by debt collectors.

But here’s the great part of this law we’re talking about now, TCPA.

It doesn’t have to be harassing. Any call they make is against the law. It can be civil and friendly and even helpful, but if it’s to your cell phone it violates the law.

All they have to do is call your cell with an auto dialer or pre-recorded message without your consent.

How would these people get my cell number?

There are a lot of places on the internet where someone can look up your cell phone number if they have your name and general area where you live.

But more commonly the way they get your cell number is when you call them back on your cell phone when you get a dunning letter or a collection call at home or work and they then “trap” your cell phone number. After that they’ve got it.

So what should they do?

  1. Save the record of the phone number that called to your cell. If you know how you should download the messages with a date and time stamp to a digital recorder or computer. Also if they leave messages you need to save those for 2 reasons:
    – They show obviously who made the call and when
    – Sometimes the messages themselves will violate other laws against harassing phone calls.
  2. Save your cell phone bills that have the numbers of the company that called your cell. ONLY CALLS YOU ANSWER, EVEN IF YOU IMMEDIATELY HANG UP AFTER SAYING HELLO, SHOW UP ON MOST CELL PHONE BILLS (Tracfone is different as they do not generally send out bills.)
  3. Finally  call a lawyer who handles these type of cases.

To wrap up,  even though we’ve been talking about cell phone calls and the TCPA, any calls made to any phone can violate the FDCPA. There are so many ways to violate that law (See article on my website “17 ways debt collectors break the law when they call you“).

Hope you found this interesting. Take care.

Pat Lester

Legal disclaimer. The postings are designed for general information only. The information presented  should not be construed, nor is it intended to be, formal legal advice and is merely public service information and does not nor is it intended to be the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Persons accessing this post are encouraged to seek legal advice from an attorney regarding their individual legal problem and questions. No attorney-client relationship or protection of any confidential information exists, until a written agreement is signed.

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