Tired of those annoying robocalls from Rachel at Card Services?
Thanks to a tiny amendment in last week’s budget bill, you may soon be getting a lot more of them on your cellphone from debt collectors — especially if you owe money on a student loan, mortgage or any other debt backed by the federal government.
And, based on a CNBC.com analysis of over 50,000 consumer complaints related to debt collection, your cellphone may be targeted even if you don’t owe anyone a dime.
The new assault on cellphone subscribers was set in motion by the bipartisan deal, which was hailed as a rare — if short-lived — moment of congressional consensus that promises to end a fiscal stalemate that has threatened periodic government shutdowns in the past few years.
But the bill was not passed without a flurry of deal-making that included the usual provisions needed to win votes. Among them was an 80-word section that authorizes “the use of automated telephone equipment to call cellular telephones for the purpose of collecting debts owed to the United States government.”
The bill, signed Monday by President Barack Obama, orders the Federal Communications Commission to set rules governing the debt collection industry’s new authority to use robocalls to hunt down debtors and get them to pay up. But the debt-collection industry’s desire to automate calls may owe much to the apparent inefficiency of the process.
A CNBC.com analysis of complaints logged in the last two years by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that roughly two-thirds of those that were related to debt collections were from people who didn’t owe anyone anything. More than 21,000 consumers reported being harassed about debts that weren’t theirs; 10,000 others said the debt had been paid or discharged in bankruptcy. Some 2,200 said the debt in question was the result of identity theft.