COLORADO SPRINGS — During the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic, just keeping up with bills has become a challenge for so many people. Being contacted by aggressive debt collectors only adds to that stress and they will soon have more ways to come after you.
Debt collectors have been coming after people through calls, texts, emails and letters in the mail, but starting at the end of November debt collectors will be able to contact you on social media and more often.
As part of the update, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that a debt collector can send a direct message on social media to someone who owes debt. They can also send a friend request to the person being contacted as long as they disclose their status as a debt collector. The new rules prohibit a debt collector from communicating via social media in a way that's viewable to the public or to their contact's friends.
The new rules were considered by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau beginning in 2019 and finalized in late 2020.
"It's not something you usually look into until you have to right? I think even pre-pandemic the statistics out there show that 40% of Americans could not handle a $1,000 unexpected hit. That margin has gotten slimmer and to a larger demographic of people with the pandemic and everything else. So, I think more people are going to be dealing with this issue and it's going to be even more important for them to know beforehand on what they need to do if this does happen" said legal expert and local attorney Stephen Longo of the Longo Firm.
According to the National Consumer Law Center, an estimated 70 million people have a bill in collections at any given time. That's nearly 1 in 4 adult Americans. An estimated 18 million Americans have more than one bill in collections, setting them up for multiple contacts a day from multiple collectors. It's a situation that unfairly impacts people just trying to make ends meet.
"Everyone who's in debt is poor and they're depending on it to keep a roof over their head," said Chakusola Guinn, who shared her concerns about the action of debt collectors during the release of stimulus checks.
So what do you do if you're being contacted, or in some cases hounded by debt collectors?
- Make them verify the debt. Make sure you actually owe money.
- Opt out. Request in writing that you no longer want to be contacted.
- Contact your original creditor and see if you can negotiate a payment plan, or even pay back a little less than what you owe.
- If you find yourself overwhelmed, it may be time to seek some legal help to make sure you're being treated fairly.
"We normally think of debt collection as another human on the line calling you on the phone and harassing you, either on your cell phone or your home phone. Imagine now whether it's going to be with a bot in a chat, or some kind of AI that can adjust on the fly, which is why it's going to be so important to engage that opt out and get them out of there," said Longo.
Debt that's in collections will have a negative impact on your credit score and can potentially impact you for a number of years. Experts advise paying down that debt as quickly as possible by setting up a payment plan that works for your budget.