Written by Shereefat Balogun, Regulatory Compliance Counsel
Yesterday, the CFPB released its latest Monthly Complaint Report, which provides a high-level snapshot of trends in consumer complaints. It is important to keep in mind that credit unions under $10 billion are not included in the Consumer Complaint Database, which forms the basis of the monthly reports. Notwithstanding, the reports can be a useful tool, as they can help credit unions evaluate which products and services are more problematic and thus, should be addressed in order to avoid or mitigate regulatory risks. Moreover, in light of the increased scrutiny of debt collection practices, credit unions are generally advised to monitor the various regulatory bulletins, reports and enforcement actions in this area in order to properly assess whether they are in compliance with FDCPA and Dodd-Frank.
As of March 1, 2016, the CFPB has handled about 834,000 consumer complaints; approximately 219, 200 of those complaints were related to debt collection. Some of the findings in the snapshot include:
- Debt collection represented 26% of total cumulative complaints, beating mortgage as the most-complained about product;
- The biggest debt collection complaint concerned attempts to collect on a debt that is not owed. This complaint accounted for 38% of debt collection complaints received.
- The second biggest complaint touched on communication tactics used by debt collectors. Specifically, consumers complained about frequent or repeated calls from debt collectors, reporting that they receive multiple calls weekly or daily. Additionally, consumers complained about receiving debt collection calls at work. Some consumers reported that their debt was disclosed to a supervisor or other third-party; while others reported that collectors made in person visits to their workplace. Also, consumers reported that requests to cease communications were not honored. This category of complaints represented 19% of debt collection complaints submitted.
- Consumers complained that they were not given enough information to verify whether or not they owed the debt in question.
For a few years now, debt collection has been the source of most complaints submitted to the bureau, and this report highlights that. It is clear that debt collection continues to be one of CFPB’s top priorities, and it does not appear that efforts in this area will slow down. Indeed, last week, the bureau issued its 2016 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Report, which in addition to citing the general complaints reported in the Monthly Complaint Report, also: (i) summarizes the CFPB’s supervisory activities in the debt collection market; (ii) describes the bureau’s enforcement actions; and (iii) discusses developments in the CFPB’s rulemaking initiatives. In the report’s section on supervisory activities, the CFPB describes the following FDCPA violations found by its examiners:
- Failing to state in subsequent phone calls that the call was from a debt collector. The FDCPA requires debt collectors to state in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt collector. (15 U.S.C. §1692e(11))
- Failing to implement consumer requests regarding communications, such as honoring a request to not be contacted at work. Generally, the FDCPA sets limits on a debt collector’s ability to communicate with members. For example, a debt collector, without prior consent of the consumer, is prohibited from communicating with a consumer in an attempt to collect a debt, at the consumer’s place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer’s employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication. (15 U.S.C. §1692c(a)(2)). Also under the FDCPA, when consumers notify a debt collector that they wish the debt collector to cease communication with them, the debt collector must generally honor that request. (15 U.S.C. §1692c(c)).
- Use of false, deceptive or misleading representations regarding credit reporting. The FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from using any false, deceptive, or misleading representation in connection with the collection of any debt. For example, a debt collector may not make false statements about the amount of any debt; or make a representation that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person or the seizure or garnishment of any property or wages of unless such action is lawful and the debt collector or creditor intends to take such action. (15 U.S.C. §1692e).
The report also describes fifteen debt collection enforcement actions filed by the CFPB in 2015. With respect to rulemaking, Director Cordray stated that the bureau “continues its effort to develop the first comprehensive federal regulations covering debt collection. We are considering provisions to ensure that debt collectors have sufficient information to collect the debt, prevent unfair, deceptive and abusive acts and practices, inform consumers of their rights, and provide interpretation of some sections of the FDCPA.” While Director Cordray did not offer a specific timeframe for rulemaking, he did indicate that the CFPB “is preparing to convene one or more Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act panels before issuing a notice of proposed rulemaking.”
In short, these recent developments demonstrate that debt collection is still at the top of the CFPB's list. Accordingly, credit unions, particularly those with more assets of $10 billion or more, need to pay attention to its debt collection practices.
The CFPB’s Monthly Complaint Report can be found here.
You can view the CFPB’s Consumer Complaint Database here.