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Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

By Caroline E. Mayer
Washington Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 19, 2006; D02

www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/18/AR2006041801
607_pf.html

Debt collectors are asking the Federal Communications Commission for
permission to use automated dialers to call a debtor’s cellphone about
overdue bills.

ACA International, the trade association that represents collectors,
said
federal rules formerly permitted collection agencies to call
cellphones
using a computerized system that stores and dials numbers. But a
change in
FCC rules in 2003 barred collectors from using such technology to call
cellphones. They may use dialers to call land lines, but they must
dial
cellphones manually.

Earlier this month, the FCC said it would review the request and
sought
public comments which are due next month. Its review comes as
complaints
about debt collectors continue to mount.

The Federal Trade Commission last week issued its annual report on the
collection industry, showing consumer complaints rising to a high of
66,627
in 2005, up 13.5 percent from 58,698 in 2004. More complaints were
filed
about debt collection than any other industry. They accounted for 19.1
percent of all complaints filed with the FTC in 2005, up from 17
percent of
all complaints in 2004.

The FTC said that, given the millions of collection calls made to
consumers
each year, the number of complaints it received is a “small percentage
of
the overall number of consumer contacts.” However, it said it thought
the
number of consumers who complain is only a “relatively small
percentage of
the total number of consumers who actually encounter problems with
debt
collectors.”

The debt-collection association argues that the FCC ban on cellphone
calls
was inadvertent, part of the commission’s attempt to curtail abusive
telemarketing calls by auto-dialers that randomly or sequentially
called
cellphones.

The ACA says collectors don’t dial randomly, but rather selectively
call
consumers who owe money. “We’re not buying lists of consumers just to
call
them for the fun of it; we’re not looking for cellphone numbers we
don’t
have,” said Rozanne M. Andersen, the ACA’s general counsel. Andersen
added
that creditors and collectors have the cellphone numbers because
consumers
provided them when they applied for credit.

Not being able to call cellphones with auto-dialers will be “extremely
detrimental to the industry and consumers,” she said. According to the
FCC,
6 percent of U.S. households now rely exclusively on wireless service,
up
from 1.2 percent in 2001. “We have generations of people moving
exclusively
to cellphones, and there is no practical way for creditors and debt
collectors to communicate with them,” she said. The ACA says creditors
could lose billions of dollars annually if the rule is not changed.

The National Consumer Law Center, a public-interest consumer advocacy
group, has already filed an objection to the ACA’s petition, saying
consumers will be “hard pressed to see the benefit” because the
automatically placed calls will use up high-cost daytime minutes. The
NCLC
added that a consumer giving a cellphone number when applying for
credit
shouldn’t be considered as giving permission to a debt collector to
call
that number later.


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