Millions of telephone numbers are reassigned every day. Accordingly, wrong number debt collection phone calls are frequent.
Understandably, debt collectors commonly place calls to the owner of the reassigned number when attempting to call the real debtor. It seems simple enough – the consumer tells the debt collector the cell phone number was reassigned, and the debt collector moves on.
Or do they? Unfortunately, debt collectors rarely take the reassigned customer’s word that he or she is not the debtor. In fact, it is not unusual for debt collectors to ignore proof of identity and that the number was reassigned in their quest to collect delinquent debts.
What then can a consumer do about these unwanted calls?
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) applies to most wrong number debt collection calls. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act or the “TCPA” is the principal federal law that provides protection against unauthorized commercial communications with consumers. Among other things, the TCPA specifically restricts the use of autodialer devices by debt collectors when communicating with consumers through their cellphones. Most any form of computer dialed call is arguably included. Therefore, the vast majority of debt collection calls made to Americans’ cell phones fall under the TCPA.
The law applies to all cellphones whether used for business or personal use. Generally speaking, given today’s technology, a debt collector violates the law every time it makes a call to a consumer's cell phone -- unless the consumer previously consented to the call by giving the telemarketer or debt collector permission to call. Where consent has been previously given, the consumer can revoke that consent at any time by notifying the debt collector to stop calling. Please note that consent is commonly provided in the fine print of most any consumer agreement. As we have noted before, whether the consumer reasonably revoked consent to call or text their cell phone is frequently the critical issue in a TCPA lawsuit.
However, in wrong number call cases, revocation of consent is not the issue since there was never consent from the reassigned number owner in the first place. Accordingly, when making calls to a wireless number that has been reassigned, debt collectors must cease contacting the consumer immediately or they risk a TCPA lawsuit. If you’ve received annoying or harassing debt collection calls that are meant for someone else, your rights under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act may have been violated and you may be entitled to compensation.
Consumers subjected to this behavior may file a lawsuit against the debt collector under the TCPA. A consumer can recover a $500 penalty for each and every call that violates the TCPA. The penalty amount can be increased to $1,500 per violation if the consumer’s TCPA rights are found to have been knowingly and willfully violated. A consumer can also recover their attorney’s fees under the TCPA.
In order to prove a TCPA case, consumers are advised to keep records of these intrusive calls. Writing down the date, time, name of the caller, and subject of the call is helpful. Saving call records and voicemails and taking screenshots of any calls or texts may also be useful.
Should you have questions about the TCPA, please contact us. Jason Causey at Bordas & Bordas has litigated a number of these cases on behalf of consumers against debt collectors and we provide an initial consultation free of charge.