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For Immediate Release

Debt collectors chase consumers over old, expired debt even when it’s illegal to collect, says survey of consumer attorneys

Washington – The National Association of Consumer Advocates today released the results of a survey conducted earlier this year of consumer attorneys’ work over the past two years representing consumers with debt collection problems.

The results show collectors’ dogged pursuit of consumers to collect debt with high volumes of calls, and their crusade to collect old, zombie debt even though their actions may violate longstanding federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Consumers complain that debt collectors call them too much, and the survey shows that collectors continue to call even when consumers ask them to stop. Eighty-one percent of all responding attorneys have consumer clients who were contacted by a debt collector even after the consumer asked the collector to stop calling.

There is not much improvement when a consumer tells the collector that she or he does not owe the debt. Of the responding attorneys, 89% of them represented consumers in the past two years who were contacted by a collector after the consumer told the collector that s/he did not owe the debt.

Hailing from 34 states and Washington, DC, 134 attorneys who represent consumers with debt collection issues reported observations about consumer experiences and interactions with collectors across the country. Collectively, their responses show that old problems for consumers continue to persist, including incessant collector calls and persistent collection of expired debt, while technology somewhat uncommon in debt collection, such as emails and texts, is posing new risks.

The survey was conducted after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s May release of a proposed rule on debt collection practices and amid the public comment period for the proposal. Among other issues, the proposal suggests changes to collectors’ attempts to contact consumers to collect debt, including adding technology such as emails and texts, and changes to the federal standard governing their collection of time-barred debt.

“Hearing from consumer attorneys across the country about their work protecting families from abusive debt collection practices is integral for making improvements and avoiding additional harm,” said Christine Hines, Legislative Director for the National Association of Consumer Advocates. “The survey results show clear patterns in collector practices that warrant more protections for consumers than the CFPB’s proposed regulation offers.”

The survey indicates a prevalence of consumer clients with multiple debts in collection. The majority of responding consumer attorneys said they have represented clients with two or more debts in collection in the past two years. Overall, 63% said they have represented consumers with two or more student loans, and 68% have recently represented consumers with two or more medical debts.

The survey responses also show that the vast majority of responding attorneys have worked on cases on behalf of consumers that demonstrate collectors’ crusade to collect on, threaten, and sue consumers over old, expired debt.

  • 85% of consumer attorneys have recently represented consumers in cases where a debt collector attempted to collect on time-barred debt, representing at least 653 consumers in the past two years.
  • 71% of consumer attorneys have recently represented consumers in cases where a debt collector threatened to sue the consumer to collect on time-barred debt, assisting at least 455 individual consumers in the two-year period.
  • 64% of attorneys have recently worked on cases representing consumers where a debt collector sued a consumer to collect on time-barred debt.

Courts have held that lawsuits against consumers over time-barred debt, and even collection of that debt, is prohibited by the FDCPA. Courts also have held that collectors must be responsible for knowing that a debt is time barred.

Read the survey results here.