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Wagner, Frame: Proposed rule only helps debt collectors harass citizens (opinion)

In May, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a proposed rule regarding abusive debt collection practices. Contrary to the Bureau’s pretense that it protects consumers, the proposal unfortunately only helps collectors track down and harass them.

The rules will help collectors contact consumers via text and direct messages — even to send information about your rights through hyperlinks, exposing you to viruses. Of course, it’s important people with debts be notified of their payment deadlines. But consumers should be required to consent to electronic contact. Instead, collectors could require convoluted and purposefully confusing steps to halt the messaging.

The proposal could also resuscitate zombie debt — a prospect as horrifying as it sounds. Collectors could pester consumers about debts that are so old the legal time limit to sue has expired. They might even be able to trick you into making a small payment that restarts the time clock for a lawsuit.

The most brazen breach of consumer protection, though, is allowing consumers to be called up to seven times per week per debt. Someone with eight medical debts could hear the phone ringing 56 times a week.

All three of these problems have easy solutions. Collectors should be limited to three attempted calls and one conversation per consumer per week. The rule should require people to opt in to electronic contacts. Zombie debt can be easily addressed by flat-out barring the collection of expired debt. But without pressure, the CFPB will not make these consumer-friendly changes.

For West Virginia’s older population this is particularly concerning. One report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that 1 in 5 older consumers had been contacted by a debt collector, many of whom used abusive practices. Many collectors attempt to collect on the debt of a deceased partner or to illegally garnish government benefits.

The roots of the debt crisis run deep, but we can at least start by telling the CFPB not to finalize a rule that harms consumers. Let’s protect our neighbors, parents and grandparents from abusive and predatory collecting. Please go to www.nclc.org/take-action/take-action-debt-collection-rule.html for help in making your comment to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Public comments are due September 18, 2019.

Jennifer Wagner is the co-executive director of Mountain State Justice. Linda Frame is operations manager for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Funerals for Sunday, September 15, 2019

Beckner, Frank - 1 p.m., Wilcoxen Funeral Home, Point Pleasant.

Blackburn, Mary - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Burns, Carrell - 2 p.m., Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.

Carper, Sonny - 2 p.m., Faith Baptist Church, Spencer.

Caudle Jr., John - 2 p.m., White Funeral Home, Summersville.

McCumbers, Virginia - 7 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Arnoldsburg.

Roach, John - 3 p.m., Restoration Fellowship, Summerville.

Seals, Jacob - 2 p.m., Garrison Avenue Freewill Baptist Church, Charleston.

Stallman, Leonard - 2 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.

Taggart, MacKenzie-1 p.m., Emmanuel Baptist Church, Charleston.