The upcoming congressional budget bill includes a provision to amend the Federal Communications Act to allow the government to collect federal debts — such as federal student loans, mortgages, and taxes — through means that include the use of automated calls to consumers’ cellphones.
Most consumers find these automated “robocalls” and text messages to be inherently offensive and harassing, particularly when they are made on a repeat basis, often outside of normal business hours. Currently, loan service companies are only permitted to robocall consumers after a consumer expressly consents to being autodialed, with attendant cellphone number verification. However, once this bill is approved by President Obama and signed into law, such robotic audio and text harassment will be legal, regardless of an individual’s consent.
“Giving one of the most abusive industries in the U.S. free rein to inundate people with robocalls to their cellphones is a terrible idea,” stated Margot Saunders, Of Counsel to the National Consumer Law Center. “Cell phones calls can distract people while driving, interrupt them at their jobs, and needlessly impose a cost on struggling families by using up scarce minutes. Debt collectors regularly call landlines to harass and threaten friends, family, and even strangers with similar names to the debtor. No one will be safe from receiving abusive calls on their cell phones if this provision goes through.”
Doom is only almost nigh, however; as noted by The Consumerist, “Even though the budget bill opened up the debt-collection loophole, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has nine months to craft rules dictating the conditions under which the government would be allowed to make these robocalls.”
According to CNN Money, last year the FCC received more than 215,000 complaints about harassing robocalls to U.S. consumers.
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