An increasing number of consumers are requesting to communicate with debt collection
agents via email, which introduces a series of privacy and legal issues, according to insideARM.
Observing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act should be paramount when collectors are considering adopting an email communication policy. Emails to consumers - like all other forms of written communication - must follow the standards laid out by state and federal laws. Because the content of emails can easily be changed, it is important for agencies' information technology departments to save and store copies of all outbound communication with debtors. This will be invaluable in the event of a later discrepancy. The news source suggests a 12-step plan for email communication with the aim of collecting debts
. Getting an email policy approved by legal counsel is a good first step in order to ensure compliance with existing requirements. An email or web-based consent form should be prepared for a consumer to authorize email communication, and a receipt of consent should be retained. The E-Sign Act allows consumers to give their consent via an electronic signature that has the same binding effect as a handwritten one, provided the consumer completes the necessary identity verification steps. To keep debt-related communication separate from the consumer's place of employment, the consumer should be informed that he or she cannot use a workplace email account due to an expected lack of privacy A set of guidelines should be followed that include establishing an email format, drawing up a security and retention policy and educating employees. With regard to privacy, using either secure email platforms or industry-specific communication platforms is recommended. If steps are taken to obtain consumer consent, protect the privacy of the consumer and avoid third-party disclosure, email can be an effective method of communication for debt collectors. However, it is important that all regulations are followed. Recently, a debt collection agency that was contacting consumers via Facebook without consent was ordered to stop by a Florida judge after one victim filed a lawsuit. This set a precedent, although industry laws regarding social media have yet to be fully defined. "It's dangerous ground because it's new ground," Mark Schiffman, public affairs director for the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, told the Orlando Sentinel. "Like anything, case law gets built because of challenges to how people are using something. We encourage (collection agencies) to make sure they are very careful in following the law."