Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Debt Collectors and Telemarketers

Sen. Jon Tester
222 N 32nd Street, Suite 102
Billings, MT 59101

Senator Tester;

I have recently made the conversion from traditional telephone to 'digital' service through my cable company. In the process, I neglected to ensure that I retained my original telephone number; as a consequence, I have had the opportunity to discover a few things about some companies that do a majority of their business over the phone.

The types of companies that I'm referring to are debt collection outfits and telemarketers, and what I've discovered is that neither of them seems to pay the slightest bit of attention to those unlucky enough to become their targets.

The debt collection agencies are probably the worst: they seem unable (or unwilling) to accept the fact that someone who has had a bill turned over to collection may also have lost their telephone service, too – and that the number may have been re-issued to someone else. I have gotten repeated phone calls from some agencies that have been annoying and persistent enough to provoke me into considerable ire (and profanity, I must confess).

While I have registered my (new) phone number with the national Do Not Call registry, it takes several weeks before that is (supposed) to become effective; in the mean time, I've been subjected to no small number of calls offering products I don't need or want, advised that I've won a variety of contests that I never entered, and enticed with a dizzying assortment of scams. The thing with the telemarketing calls is that many of them are robo-calls that tell me to press a number on my phone to stop receiving the calls – which don't stop, anyway.

Further exacerbating the situation is that the vast majority of these calls (of both types) have had names and/or numbers that didn't bear even the faintest connection to the actual caller.

After giving the matter some thought, I think that it would be entirely appropriate for the
government to address the issue. What I would like to see is the following suggestions be implemented as laws or regulations governing debt collection and telemarketing companies:

For telemarketers:
• Those called must be given an opportunity to decline, and be removed (permanently!)
from the contact list within 24 hours. Violations should result in a fine/penalty of $5,000
• The company contracting the telemarketing work (i.e., the one they're calling for) should
also be held liable for any violations made by the telemarketer. If I can learn that a
particular telemarketer has a reputation for bad behavior, I have to think that someone
hiring them can, too – and should be held accountable. I think applying the same perincident fee to them, too, would be appropriate.

For debt collectors:
• When advised that the person they're after no longer has a particular phone number, they
must immediately end the call, and make no further calls to that number until and unless
they have verified the number using something other than the most recent telephone
book/listing. Repeat calls should result in a fine or penalty of $10,000 PER INCIDENT.
• When a debt collector receives an account where the contact details are more than 6
months old, they must verify those details, as above, before making any calls. A
fine/penalty of $5,000 PER INCIDENT would be appropriate.

For both:
• When requested by a contact, representatives of the calling company must provide the
legal name (as in: the one printed on their paychecks!) of who they work for, vice who
they're calling on behalf of. Violations should be fined/penalized $50,000 PER
• Companies calling on behalf of someone other than themselves (such as telemarketers
and collection agencies) must provide their real names and contact phone numbers for
Caller ID. Failure to do so should cost them $50,000 PER INCIDENT.
• Allow those contacted to record and document such activities, and forward them to the
FCC for priority investigation. Current laws on the recording of telephone conversations
are a mish-mash of limitations imposed by different states; establish one overriding
exemption for those receiving interstate commercial calls.

Doubtless, representatives of both of these types of businesses will scream bloody murder at the idea; however, since they are patently unable or unwilling to effectively police themselves, then it must be done FOR them. Also, the dollar values I've proposed are meant to be high – the cost should be sufficient to ensure that non-compliance isn't even considered. If you wanted to double (or even treble) them, I certainly wouldn't object...

I would also suggest that funding to the FCC (or other agency, as appropriate) be increased
somewhat so that they would have the means to investigate such activities, and even take a proactive approach toward ensuring compliance.

I shall look forward to receiving any response you might care to make to this letter.


David K. Merriman