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By Jeanine Skowronski /
October 9, 2015
Malcolm Piers—Getty Images

The good old-fashioned phone call has steadily given way to text messaging in recent years, including, it seems, within the debt collection industry.

A blog reader recently shared her story of how a debt collector had sent a text to her mother (who had served as a reference on her auto loan application) about an outstanding car payment. While her question specifically concerned whether a debt collector can legally text a third party, it’s important to understand whether and when a debt collector can text you (the person responsible for the debt) as well.

In both instances, texts are generally permissible, but heavy restrictions apply. In fact, according to April Kuehnhoff, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, text messages from debt collectors are essentially regulated the same way as phone calls.

“The definition of communications in the Fair Debt Collections Practice Act is quite broad,” she said. “There’s no distinction in the act itself” regarding the method a collector uses to contact you.

A Debt Collection Refresher

The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from, among other things, making early morning or late-night phone calls, verbally abusing the debtor, contacting them continually throughout the day and threatening to sue when they don’t actually intend to file a lawsuit.

And when it comes to contacting third parties, the restrictions become even more stringent. In fact, collectors are generally only permitted to contact friends or family members for location information — where you live, work and what your phone number is. They’re not supposed to state that the communication pertains to a debt. They’re also not supposed to contact a third party more than once, unless this person says it’s OK or the collector has reason to believe the person has new or additional information.

“It’s intended to be very narrow, that communication that they’re entitled to have,” Kuehnhoff said.

A Little Extra Protection

The FDCPA isn’t the only law that may protect you and your loved ones from unwanted texts. According to Kuehnhoff, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) prohibits autodialed text messages to cellphones without the prior consent of the called party, so if the texts you are receiving aren’t being manually dialed, you could have a potential claim against a collector.

Plus, “some states may have additional laws or regulations that apply to text messages,” she said.

You may want to consider consulting an attorney if you have reason to believe a debt collector may be violating any existing regulations.

Dealing With the Debt Collectors

Under the FDCPA, consumers may send a written request asking a debt collector to cease all communications. Once the collector receives this letter, they may not contact you about the debt again, unless they plan to take specific action to resolve it. (They could, for instance, decide to sue.)

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that this letter would get the collector — but not the debt — to go away. You can find a step-by-step guide to paying down debts here. Actions include calculating how much exactly you owe, potentially lowering interest rates on expensive balances and monitoring your credit regularly to identify all of your existing obligations.

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