BACKGROUND: On August 2, 2016, the FCC adopted rules to implement amendments to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) that exempt some robocalls—including autodialed text messages made to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States—from certain TCPA requirements. The statutory amendments that the FCC’s rules implement state that prior express consent is no longer needed when sending autodialed text messages or making autodialed, prerecorded voice, and artificial voice calls to a wireless number to collect a federal debt. Pursuant to the amendments, the FCC rules restrict, among other things, the number, duration and recipient of such robocalls, and they provide specifically that recipients can opt out of further calls. The FCC’s decision is available at: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-16-99A1.pdf
Federal debt collection robocalls (which may be an autodialed call, a prerecorded-voice call, an artificial-voice call, or a text message sent using an autodialer) may be made to a wireless number without the recipient’s prior express consent but only under certain conditions.
Who May Be Robocalled?
- Federal debt collectors and their agents and contractors may only make calls to debtors or other persons legally responsible for paying the debt, but not, for example, to friends, family, or persons referenced in debt paperwork.
Is Telemarketing Allowed?
- Robocalls are only permitted for purposes of collecting the federal debt and not for marketing or other unrelated purposes.
When May Federal Debt Collectors Place a Robocall?
- These calls may only be made: 1) while the debt is delinquent; or 2) in the case of certain debt servicing calls, subject to strict limits, following a “specific, time-sensitive event” and in the 30 days before such an event that affects the amount or timing of payments due (e.g., end of a deferment period or a recertification deadline).
Which Numbers May Be Called?
- Federal debt collectors may only make these calls to wireless telephone numbers that: 1) the debtor provided at the time the debt was incurred; 2) were subsequently provided by the debtor to the owner of the debt or the owner’s contractor; or 3) were obtained from an independent source by the federal debt collector so long as the number actually belongs to the debtor.
How Many Calls? What Time of Day?
- Consumers may be robocalled no more than three times within a 30-day period by each servicer or collector per type of loan. Calls need not be completed to count toward the three-call limit.
- Calls may only be placed between 8 am and 9 pm local time at the debtor’s location.
What About Opt-Out and Disclosure Requirements?
- Debtors have a right to opt out from receiving federal debt collection robocalls and robotexts at any time by any reasonable means (e.g., verbally, in writing, or by reply text).
- Federal debt collection robocalls and robotexts must disclose the debtor’s “stop-call” rights and include opt-out instructions.
What is the Limit on Call Length?
- Artificial-voice and prerecorded-voice calls are limited to 60 seconds in duration (not including required disclosures).
- Autodialed texts are limited to one text message of 160 characters. (Required disclosures may be sent separately.)
What is the Interplay with the TCPA and Other FCC Implementing Rules?
- All other provisions of the TCPA and the FCC’s implementing rules regarding autodialed and prerecorded calls still apply.