Can Debt Collectors Leave Voicemails?

Chloe Meltzer

November 03, 2021

Summary: Are debt collectors hounding you for your old debts? Wondering if if they're allowed to leave voicemails about your past due balances? Find out if it's legal or not.

If you are suffering from debt, then you may have been approached by debt collectors through the mail, but also through phone calls. Debt collectors must abide by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), which places limits on what debt collectors can do, and how they can contact you. Debt collectors are allowed to call you, but they cannot always leave a message on your answering machine.

There are a few main instances when debt collectors might be sued for violating the privacy of those who are in debt, through a voicemail message. One of those instances is when it is accessed by a third party.

For example, if a debt collector knows that other people might be able to hear the message, then they cannot leave a message. If your machine is obviously a personal cell phone, then the collector is technically allowed to leave a message but must choose their words carefully. Another instance when it is illegal to leave a voicemail is when the debt collector does not properly identify themselves.

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Debt collectors must identify themselves

Under the FDCPA, any communication from a debt collector is required to disclose their identity. This means they must state their name, the name of the collection company and their phone number. Additionally, they must state that the communication is being done to collect a debt. Any information that is obtained, is to be used specifically to collect on a debt, and this must also be stated.

As of 2021, this information must be stated in the same language and tone as the other information. Despite this, they do not have to provide translations into other languages which can be confusing.

Privacy protections under the FDCPA

Although debt collectors can leave a message on your machine, they cannot necessarily do it legally. The FDCPA exists in order to protect your privacy and prohibits debt collectors from disclosing your information to third parties. Third parties include your family, friends, boss, or anyone other than your spouse. Because of this, a debt collector may not be able to leave a message legally as it might violate parts of the FDCPA.

Each state has different laws as well, which govern protection against debt collectors and the communication they are afforded. For example, even mentioning that the consumer is in debt might be a violation. To make it more clear, leaving a message on an answering machine is technically allowed, but it may also end up resulting in a violation.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors are always required to identify who they are, and who they are working for. This rule prevents collection agents from tricking consumers. For example, tricking them into calling back, when they are not aware that a debt collector called them in the first place.

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Changing the FDCPA

Debt collectors have been working for years to change aspects of the FDCPA to allow them to leave messages without the possibility of violating the FDCPA. For instance, in early 2021, an amendment to the FDCPA was presented to Congress. This amendment was called the “Fair Debt Collection Practices Clarification Act of 2021”.

One of the plans from this amendment was the plan to scale back consumer privacy rights. Some of these changes were to allow collectors to leave messages but create an official language to use when leaving messages. At the time of publication, this has not yet passed but, for now, debt collectors are required to protect debtors' privacy rights and continue to disclose with open communication.

What to expect moving forward

Although many laws are applied to debt collectors, there are a few things to remember regarding the FDCPA. For example, these laws only apply to third-party debt collectors, not the original creditor you borrowed from.

This may be confusing, but under federal law, creditors are not bound by the FDCPA. The only collectors that are required to abide by these laws are those who have purchased or been assigned debts.

In some special situations, there are a few states which have their own debt collection laws. This often requires original creditors to abide by rules similar to the FDCPA. These states include California, Utah, and Wisconsin. It can be difficult to say how the courts will interpret the laws in every situation.

Despite this, you should always look into how a collector has approached you, and if they possibly violated the FDCPA.

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