Friday, June 22, 2012

Debt Collectors’ Automated Calls Violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that if a debt collector’s automated system continues to call a reassigned telephone number without the prior express consent of the new recipient, then the debt collector is liable for statutory damages even if the previous subscriber with that telephone number had consented to the automated calls. The actions of the debt collector were found to violate the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

In Soppet v. Enhanced Recovery Co., two consumers with overdue bills had consented to receive automated calls on their cell phones, but then changed their phone numbers. As a result, when a debt collector’s automated system tried to contact the consumers at the provided numbers, the calls instead were received by the new subscribers to whom those cell phone numbers had been reassigned. The recipients of the calls then filed a class action against the debt collector.

The Seventh Circuit reasoned that its ruling follows the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which consistently uses the phrase “called party” to refer to the actual rather than the intended recipient of the call.

The Seventh Circuit’s decision will require debt collectors who use automated systems to ensure that the actual recipients of automated calls have consented to receiving them, and take steps to update their records when telephone numbers have been reassigned to new subscribers.

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