May 14, 2012 Philip Burgess
Traditionally, debt collection agents have the option of recovering a debt in a number of ways. Common ways of getting in touch with someone who has missed a payment include traveling to their home and contacting family members to gain information, though the most popular way is still by calling them at home or on a cell phone.However, the rules and regulations surrounding phone calls made to people in debt could be adding another stipulation due to a recent decision by a federal judge in Minnesota. Zortman v. J.C. Christensen & Associates The recent ruling in Zortman v. J.C. Christensen and Associates dictated that even if a voicemail left by a debt collector identifies themselves as a recovery agent and says that they have an important message for the debtor, it does not count as a communication under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Christina Zortman brought the case in front of District Judge Christina Ericksen after receiving a voicemail from an agent at JCC. The message disclosed the debt Zortman owed on her cell phone's voicemail box, and the sum was overheard by others. The judge held that certain things need to be disclosed during such messages, including that the communication is from a collector, that any information obtained will be used for that purpose. The caller left their number, did not identify themselves as a collector, specified the amount owed, but did not actually say it was a debt. Ericksen ruled in favor of Zortman, saying that the voicemails leave no information that an internet search could not reveal. Effects on the industry Partners at Ballard Spahr reported this may greatly affect the practices of debt collectors. Because of the 2006 ruling of Foti v. NCO Financial Systems, debt recovery agents attempting to make contact over the phone have had to stick to a strict script for leaving messages or simply hang up. Before leaving a message, agencies may want to make changes to their regulations regarding what collectors can say over the phone. The ruling suggests recovery agencies may be better off attempting to contact a person in a different way, if voicemail is no longer a valid option. Many are taking a new approach - using social media to contact someone with past due payments. The Huffington Post reported debt collectors have been using Facebook to contact debtors when phone calls and home visits don't work.