Debt collection calls to your cell phone can be annoying and sometimes even dangerous. (Just imagine getting distracted by repeated calls while you are driving!) Unfortunately they are often all too common.
The Federal Trade Commission defines a "robocall" as one that uses an automated or recorded voice. Robocalls to cell phones, including debt collection robocalls, are illegal under the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), unless you consented to be called by the debt collector or the company for which it is collecting (such as a hospital or credit card company). Violations can result in damage awards of $500 - $1500 per call.
Here’s what you need to know about illegal robocalls and how to fight back.
The TCPA makes it unlawful for a company to use an automated telephone dialing system or an artificial or prerecorded voice to call a consumer on his or her cell phone without the consumer’s consent. This applies to text messages as well.
You can usually tell when you are getting a robocall because when you answer there will be a delay before you hear someone on the line, or you’ll hear an automated message instructing you to hold, press a number on your phone, or do something else.
If you get one of these calls, the first question to ask yourself is, "Did I give my consent to be contacted this way?" If the answer is "no," the call is very likely illegal and you can get free help from a consumer law attorney.
If the call is for someone other than you, then it's highly unlikely that you agreed to be contacted on your cell phone about that other person's debt. "It does not matter if that other person knows you or is related to you," says attorney David Menditto, Director of Litigation at Hyslip & Taylor. "Unless you authorized that person to provide consent on your behalf, the debt collector would not be authorized to robocall your cell phone."
Even if the call was intended for someone who used to have your same cell phone number, a robocall to your phone without your permission is probably a violation of federal law and you may be entitled to damages as a result.
Keep in mind that that if you gave your consent to the original creditor for the debt that is in collection (for example, a credit card company or cable provider), then that consent may transfer to the collection agency now trying to collect that debt. This doesn’t mean that you have to put up with the robocalls however. Keep reading for information on how to stop them.
If you don't want to get automated calls on your cell phone anymore, it's simple enough to revoke your consent. Simply tell the company contacting you: "I revoke my consent for you to contact me on my cell phone; do not call me on my cell phone number (xxx-xxx-xxxx provide the number) again." It's best to follow up in writing. Be sure to make a copy of your letter for your files and to send it via certified mail with a return receipt. That way you will have proof that you mailed the letter as well as proof that the company received it.
If robocalls to your cell phone continue after you've told the company to stop, it may have broken two federal laws (the TCPA and the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act) and it could be a good idea to consult with a consumer law attorney. The attorney may believe that you have grounds for a lawsuit.
We tell you more about working with an attorney at no charge to you in this next section.
If you are able to provide that a company has violated the TCPA, you may be entitled to damages of between $500 and $1500 per violation.
Attorneys who specialize in this area of law often represent consumers on a contingent fee basis. If you work with one of these attorneys, you will not have to pay the attorney an up-front fee and the attorney will receive nothing for his or her efforts unless the attorney wins money for you. If that happens, the attorney will deduct his or her fee from the money recovered. It’s not unusual for TCPA cases to settle before they go to trial.
If you think a company has made illegal robocalls to your cell phone, talk with an attorney with experience helping consumers with this type of case. Below is information about one such firm. (Note: We are a marketing affiliate and have provided this information as a service to our readers who need help.)
You can stop all debt collection calls to your cell phone (even those that are not "robocalls") by telling the debt collector that it is not convenient for you to receive collection calls on your cell phone and you want them to stop calling you there. Under the FDCPA, the collector must honor your request.
To learn more about your rights when dealing with debt collection agencies, be sure to get your free copy of our ebook, Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights.
One of our readers shared the following story after recently engaging a law firm to represent him in litigation against several debt collection firms. Because he is currently in the process of suing these collectors, he asked that we keep his identity anonymous.
Out of the blue, I started getting calls on my cell phone several times a day from collection agencies. These were "robo" calls: the kind where there is no one on the line when I answered. I have had this phone number for years and I didn't have any accounts in collections that I knew of, so I had no idea why these calls suddenly started.
When I got someone on the line from one of these companies, they basically told me they had no idea why they were calling. They had no record of my name or my phone number in their system. And that made it worse because they said that they couldn’t take me off their list! There were several different agencies calling me all day long -- even when I was at work. I work in construction and so I really don’t want to be constantly distracted and interrupted by phone calls. I looked up the callers' phone numbers online and they were all legitimate collectors, not scammers.
But I couldn’t stop the calls!
Then I found out it was illegal for them to make robocalls to my cell phone without my permission. I tried to use this information to resolve my problem on my own, but I couldn't. It was then that I decided to talk with an attorney about my rights. I talked to two attorneys as well as the one I was referred to through DebtCollectionAnswers.com. I felt that attorney was the most helpful so I decided to retain his firm. Also, I didn't have to pay anything to the firm up front. And so I figured, why not? At least the calls should finally stop.
I don't know how this will turn out, but I figure it's better to do something than let myself get more and more ticked off by the debt collectors’ constant calls. I figured it was time for me to take control!