The Federal Trade Commission has moved the second Debt Collection Dialogue to a larger venue, Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, after the number of pre-registrants neared the maximum for the previously scheduled venue. The event is set for Sept. 29. Pre-registration, which had closed on Aug. 13, has re-opened.
More information about the Dallas event, including how to pre-register and how to submit questions for the two panels in advance, is posted at www.ftc.gov/debtcollectiondialogue-dallas.
The third Debt Collection Dialogue, in Atlanta, is set for Nov. 18 at the Latin American Association, 2750 Buford Highway. Information about the Atlanta event is available at www.ftc.gov/debtcollectiondialogue-atlanta.
Both events are free and open to the public. The goal of the series is to share information promoting fair collection practices.
The FTC held its first collection dialogue in Buffalo, N.Y., a collections hub, in June.
In the last 18 months the FTC has filed a half-dozen cases against Buffalo-area debt collectors concerning allegations of egregious practices against consumers. New York has the nation's highest number of collection agencies.
There are an estimated 4,700 debt collectors employed in the Buffalo region alone and, thus, a large number of complaints about collection practices also originate in the area, added Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
At the Buffalo event, members of the FTC and the New York Attorney General's office gave presentations on collection issues, existing laws and the enforcement of fair practices. Audience members then had the opportunity to ask panelists questions.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at that event that while there are strong state laws and enforcement against deceptive collection practices, collaborating with the FTC sends a strong message.
"There are a lot of folks trying to do this legitimately, and a lot of folks who try to take advantage of debtors when they’re feeling weak," he said.
The goal, he added, is ultimately to not just catch the bad guys but to have laws in place so there are fewer bad guys to catch.
The need to address collection practices nationwide is reflected in data seen by the FTC, said the FTC's Rich, who added that the FTC continues to receive more complaints about collections than any other industry.
Approximately 282,000 complaints were received last year alone regarding deceptive or abusive collections.
Regulators continue to crack down on illegal collection agencies and debt buyers, often operations far removed from the legitimate collection industry. Examples of unfair collection practices include suing a consumer for debts they don’t even owe or filing lawsuits on debts that have surpassed the statute of limitations. New York State’s statute of limitations to collect on debt is generally six years.
But many large debt buyers - including Asta Funding, Encore Capital, PRA Group and Sherman Financial - also have been involved in regulatory actions and settlements in New York since last year. The FTC has filed eight cases this year against companies allegedly violating collection laws.
Last December, New York regulators unveiled new collection rules requiring collectors, among other things, to produce loan documents or a court judgment if requested. New York Superintendent of Financial Services Benjamin Lawsky said the regulations are meant to help guide an industry that has gone largely unregulated despite thousands of consumer complaints each year.