[This piece was compiled with the help of Debra Ciskey of Wakefield Associates; and Leslie Bender of ARS National. insideARM thanks them both for contributing.]
Yesterday the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted its first of three scheduled “Debt Collection Dialogues,” in Buffalo, New York.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the 65th attorney general of of New York State, kicked off the day with a discussion of the genesis of the New York State Debt Collection Law and Rules. Referring to the roster of panelists, Schniederman suggested that both the rules and the meeting point to a coordination of efforts. The intention, he said, is to go after the bad actors and support the good actors.
Specifically because the good actors are facing an uphill battle.
Schneiderman’s philosophy, specifically relating to the NYS Debt Collection Law and Rules, is that by providing a clear framework, it will make things easier for those legitimate companies, and significantly more challenging for those not interested in playing by the rules.
Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC Bureau of consumer protection, provided a review of debt collection complaint statistics and data related to enforcement actions in her prepared remarks. She said the FTC is very busy with enforcement actions this year, having already filed eight new debt collection cases in 2015. She reported that the FTC has expanded efforts in the debt collection arena, and will continue to do so until the problems abate.
Rich went on to say that more dialogue sessions are planned in which the FTC will partner with local law enforcement, as they were doing in the current Buffalo session. Rich also said that they want to partner with the collection industry to stop bad actors. She mentioned the collaborative efforts of the FTC and the CFBP, pointing to the recent Greentree case as the first joint effort of the FTC and the CFPB.
For those wondering why Buffalo was chosen as the location for this meeting, that decision was made clear: Only three areas of the country have more collectors. Buffalo also generates the most enforcement actions against debt collectors: recently six enforcement actions were commenced against Buffalo area debt collectors. Rich implored the good actors in the room to report on the bad actors.
James Morrisey, assistant attorney general, shared some examples of those bad actors for the audience. In one call, the collector calls a consumer whose wife died that morning at home. While the collector briefly expressed empathy related to the situation, he spent the majority of time on this call seeking payment. In the second call, a collector misrepresents himself as an “investigator” and in this conversation with a school principal, threatens to personally remove the teacher he is trying to reach from her classroom.
And to further underline the point that there are bad — or, more specifically, illegal — actors out there, and that these criminals are making things incredibly challenging for the rest of the industry, Morrisey shared a list of infractions:
1) Collectors lying about working for federal agencies
2) Collectors making false threats of arrest and legal actions
3) Collectors communicated with third parties about debts
4) Collectors, in some of the most egregious examples, to rape or kill consumers, dig up buried remains of deceased relatives
In the New York area? Looking for in-depth conversations with peers about the NYS Debt Collection Law and Rules? The Compliance Professionals Forum is hosting an in-person compliance peer meeting in Rochester, NY. For more information, and to register, click this link. Admission discounts available.