CONSUMER ALERT

Robocalls now prohibited; Who's responsible for deceased relative's debts?

Submitted by Harold Moldoff

(This is another in a series of public service columns. The following information on robocalls and deceased persons' debt was issued by the Federal Trade Commission and New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection and Antitrust.)



On robocalls

Beginning September 1, 2009, prerecorded commercial telemarketing calls to consumers – commonly known as robocalls – are prohibited, unless the telemarketer has obtained permission in writing from consumers who want to receive such calls, the Federal Trade Commission has announced.

“American consumers have made it crystal clear that few things annoy them more than the billions of commercial telemarketing robocalls they receive every year,” said Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC. “Starting September 1, this bombardment of prerecorded pitches, senseless solicitations, and malicious marketing will be illegal. If consumers think they’re being harassed by robocallers, they need to let us know, and we will go after them.”

The new requirement is part of amendments to the agency’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR) that were announced a year ago. After September 1, sellers and telemarketers who transmit prerecorded messages to consumers who have not agreed in writing to accept such messages will face penalties of up to $16,000 per call.

The rule amendments that went into effect on September 1 do not prohibit calls that deliver purely “informational” recorded messages – those that notify recipients, for example, that their flight has been cancelled, an appliance they ordered will be delivered at a certain time, or that their child’s school opening is delayed. Such calls are not covered by the TSR, as long as they do not attempt to interest consumers in the sale of any goods or services. For the same reason, the rule amendments also do not apply to calls concerning collection of debts where the calls do not seek to promote the sale of any goods or services.

In addition, calls not covered by the TSR – including those from politicians, banks, telephone carriers, and most charitable organizations – are not covered by the new prohibition. The new prohibition on prerecorded messages does not apply to certain healthcare messages. The new rule prohibits telemarketing robocalls to consumers whether or not they previously have done business with the seller.

Under a previous rule that took effect on December 1, 2008, telemarketing robocall messages by businesses covered by the TSR must tell consumers how to opt-out of further calls at the start of the message, and provide an automated opt-out mechanism that is voice or keypress-activated. Prerecorded messages left on answering machines must also provide a toll-free number that connects to the automated opt-out mechanism.

After September 1, consumers who receive prerecorded telemarketing calls but have not agreed to get them should file a complaint with the Commission, either on the donotcall.gov Web site or by calling 1-888-382-1222.

The Commission’s 2008 press release announcing the changes to the TSR’s prerecorded telemarketing provisions and a link to the related Federal Register notice can be found on the FTC’s Web site at:http://www2.ftc.gov/opa/2008/08/tsr.shtm.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.



On Deceased Relative's Debts?

If your relative leaves unpaid debts when he or she dies, do you have to pay?

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s consumer protection agency, surviving relatives usually have no legal obligation to pay the debts of a family member who has died. Generally, that person’s estate is responsible for paying his or her debts. But if there isn’t enough in the estate to cover the debts, they typically go unpaid.

After a relative dies, debt collectors may contact family members and ask them to pay their loved ones’ debts. The rights of surviving relatives are covered by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which the FTC enforces. The FTC has developed a new consumer alert about this issue titled Paying the Debts of a Deceased Relative: Who Is Responsible? To learn more, go to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt159.shtm.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers

If you’re behind in paying your bills, or a creditor’s records mistakenly make it appear that you are, a debt collector may be contacting you.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.

Here are some questions and answers about your rights under the Act.

What types of debts are covered?

The Act covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. The FDCPA doesn’t cover debts you incurred to run a business.

Can a debt collector contact me any time or any place?

No. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.

How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?

If a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to them at least once to see if you can resolve the matter – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector – in writing – to stop contacting you. Here’s how to do that:

Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. Sending such a letter to a debt collector you owe money to does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.

Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?

If an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people – but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.

What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?

Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

Can a debt collector keep contacting me if I don’t think I owe any money?

If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. But a collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.


BE AWARE OF FRAUDULENT ATTEMPTS TO STEAL MONEY FROM YOU. If you have questions or concerns on offers of solicitations, we encourage you to contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection at (603) 271-3641, or 1-888-468-4454 or Rye Police Department at (603)964-5522

Harold Moldoff is a volunteer Consumer Affairs Specialist with the Bureau of Consumer Protection and Antitrust, Concord, N.H. He is a resident of Rye Beach.




October, 2009



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