In an ongoing attempt to ride herd on robo calls, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last week implemented a cap on the number of unwanted debt collector robo calls that can be made to cell phones at three per month.
The FCC's decision will provide controls on a provision included in the 2015 Budget Act, which allows these calls and text messages to be made to a cell phone without the phone owner's consent to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the federal government. Calls are typically made to people who are delinquent on federal student loans or owe money on federal income taxes.
Robo calls are auto-dialed or prerecorded telemarketing calls to landline home telephones or cell phones, or unsolicited text messages to wireless numbers. Autodialed informational messages, such as those announcing weather alerts or school closings, are permitted by the FCC, as are calls to landlines on behalf of non-profit groups or political campaigns.
In recent years, however, this practice has been adopted by debt collectors, included those hired by the federal government to collect money owed to Uncle Sam. In addition to the three-call-per-month cap, the new FCC rule will also let consumers opt out of these calls, and will require debt collectors to notify consumers of their right to request that these calls stop.
"One of the most important protections requires that robo callers obey a consumer's request to stop calling," said Maureen Mahoney, policy analyst at the Yonkers, New York-based Consumer Union.
"With this rule, it appears that the FCC will continue to ensure that all consumers have the right to control the calls and texts they receive," said Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at San Francisco-based Consumer Action.
Robo calls are generating more complaints than live calls initiated by human telemarketers, according to the National Do Not Call Registry. More than 1.7 million complaints are made every year to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alone regarding unwanted robo calls.
Concerning the FCC's action, the Young Invincibles' Deputy Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs Reid Setzer also noted that "this is a positive step for millions of student borrowers affected by excessive, unwanted calls from loan servicers."
The new FCC robo call rules will be incorporated into its larger Telephone Consumer Protection Act rule. The rule applies to calls about debts that are either delinquent or are within 30 days of a deadline affecting the amount or timing of payments due, such as a deadline for maintaining a grace, deferment or forbearance period or an alternative payment arrangement.