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FTC Cracks Down on Deceptive Debt Collection Texts

Debt collectors often have a difficult time getting a response from the person they’re trying to reach. Letters go unanswered. Calls are not returned.

A text message can cut through the clutter.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to make contact via text, as long as the collection agency follows all the rules. And according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), some do not.

A few weeks ago, federal courts in New York and Georgia temporarily shut down three debt collection agencies accused by the FTC of sending deceptive and threatening text messages, among other things.

Those deceptive texts, the FTC complaint alleges, were used to trick people into calling them back.

The texts from one collection agency included false statements such as:

“YOUR PAYMENT DECLINED WITH CARD ****-****-****-5463 . . . CALL 866.256.2117 IMMEDIATELY.”

“YOUR PAYMENT FOR $[AMOUNT] IS SCHEDULED FOR [DATE]. CALL 866.257.2117 WITH ANY QUESTIONS OR CONCERNS.”

“YOUR PAYMENT OF $[AMOUNT] IS SCHEDULED FOR [DATE]. CALL 866.257.2117 IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR PAYMENT EARLY.”

“That’s how they lured people into talking to them,” said Chris Koegel, assistant director of the FTC’s Division of Financial Practices. “People think there’s a problem with their credit card or that they’re about to get charged for something that didn’t make sense and they called. And when they did, the collectors would launch into their deceptive debt collecting by threatening arrest and lawsuits and things like that.”

Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling called the use of these bogus text messages a “despicable” way to do business.

“Debt collectors are required to clearly identify themselves and clearly explain the intent of their communication, each and every time. That’s the law,” McClary told NBC News.

The Federal Trade Commission first saw deceptive text messages used by dishonest debt collectors a few years ago. Koegel tells NBC News he believes this is “a growing trend” and he cautions people to be wary of strange text messages.

Legitimate debt collectors know the rules and follow them: They cannot threaten, harass or lie to you.

They must send you a written “validation notice” within five days of contacting you. This letter must tell you how much money you owe, the name of the creditor and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

Never respond to a debt collector in any way or provide any personal information before you get that validation notice.

If you get tricked into calling a debt collector – hang up – and file a complaint. Learn more about dealing with debt collectors on the FTC website.

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.