It may be true when they say “no good deed goes unpunished” as new adopted regulations meant to protect consumers may have the opposite consequence if you aren’t careful! The new rules on debt collection practices recently adopted by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can leave consumers more vulnerable to online scams. Here’s what’s new and tips on how you can help protect yourself.
The new rules basically clarify how debt collectors can communicate with you, including what information they’re required to provide at the outset of collection about the debt, your rights in debt collection and how you can exercise those rights. And if that sounds somewhat confusing, you may be right. And fraudsters, as always, are looking at this period of transition to the new rules as a chance to scam victims, who won’t know any better.
These are the two things that have changed the way a debt collector can communicate with you:
- Debt collectors can now send unsolicited emails, texts and social media messages. You can opt-out of any or all of these channels of communication.
- A debt collector can now “friend” you on social media. They have to, however, identify themselves as a debt collector and disclose their intent if the purpose of friending you is ultimately to use that platform and direct connection to send direct messages in pursuit of debt.
While debt collectors were not previously banned from contacting consumers over text or on social media, the revised rules are intended to provide “clear rules of the road” now and in the future, the CFPB said.
Dealing with debt collectors can be a trying time for the nearly 70 million Americans who are estimated to have a debt in collection. That staggering number translates to nearly one in three adults with a credit report being pursued during the pandemic, according to analysis from the Urban Institute.
Even those with no credit worries need to beware. Scammers are already using unsolicited electronic communications to perpetrate fraud, using debt collection as a pretext. Allowing debt collectors to email, text and use social media to contact consumers gives criminals a new avenue to try to scam people into paying them money on alleged debts.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself.
First, know your rights. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is very specific about what a debt collector can and can’t do.
Find out who you’re dealing with. Ask for the collector’s name, the company’s name and its address and phone number. Legitimate collectors will provide this information.
Become extra vigilant about who you let access your social networks.
Do not to click on any hyperlinks or download any attachments from DMs, texts or emails claiming to come from debt collectors on social media. All of those rules to avoid scams and identity theft still apply, even if it’s a debt collector email. You should research the name of the company that emailed you the notice to first determine if it is a legitimate debt collector.
If you are getting scam emails about a debt you don’t owe, report it. You can report illegal debt collection practices to the CFPB and your state attorney general’s office. Many states have their own debt collection laws, so contacting state authorities can be a good idea. Document any violation of the law on the part of the debt collector. While it won’t make legitimate debts go away, it can help prevent further misconduct and even give you grounds to sue the debt collector.
You may also want to contact a major credit reporting agency. Tell them you’ve been targeted by fake debt collectors. Ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Or, even more simply, use a third-party identity theft and credit monitoring service to keep an eye on your credit 24/7. This is much less costly, both in time and money, than falling victim to a scammer.