I have a question for your forum.  I am a Collections Manager for the alarm company I work for.  My understanding of the Federal law is that debt collectors are not permitted to call a cell phone to collect a debt without previous written permission specific to debt collection.
    Our business in is Pennsylvania.  My understanding of the PA fair debt collection practice is that it aligns with the federal law.  My question is - for a creditor with an established customer who has provided their cell phone number for general purposes, is it legal for the employee of the creditor to call the cell phone number of their established customer to collect a debt for their creditor employer?
    This would be in house collection attempts, not third party collection agency collection efforts.
bGail L Hurson, Credit Manager, Collections Manager
Security Service Company
Fleetwood, Pa
    You are not a "debt collector" under the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act because you are in house for the provider of the service.  You can call the customer's cell phone.
    However, the FDCPA is extremely complicated and complex and creditors can be sued for even the most innocuous violation.  And the penalties are severe because the offended "debtor" is entitled to $1000 per violation plus attorneys fees.  Per violation can mean that once there is a technical violation, such as failure to serve a properly worded letter, each act after that can constitute a separate violation.  That adds up, but nothing compared to the legal fees that will add up fast.  These lawsuits are started in Federal Court by attorneys [I am tempted to call them "trolling" attorneys just like the patent and copyright lawyers out there] and the longer the case goes on the more you are at risk for mounting legal fees.  
    Those of you using our Standard Form Agreements can take advantage of our collection and litigation department, which includes skilled paralegals and attorneys, all expert in the FDCPA and collection matters in general.  The Standard Form Agreements include an arbitration provision which will permit our firm to represent you in any dispute with your subscriber.  The arbitration will be handled in a quick and efficient manner, with a hearing on the merits more than likely handled by telephonic conferences and hearings.  After an arbitration award is granted you would use a local attorney in your jurisdiction to confirm the award. which is a much different and easier proceeding than commencing a lawsuit on the debt.  Using the arbitration process will also enable you to start proceedings much more quickly and increase your chances of favorable settlement and recovery.
    One mistake alarm companies [and other clients too] make is waiting too long to pursue an outstanding receivable or harassing the subscriber to such an extent that the collection matter becomes personal to both you and the subscriber, each taking opposite positions and on the subscriber's part, resolve to never pay the debt.  Don't let it get to that point.  After 30 days it's a polite call.  If no response by payment then ship it out to collection.  Repeated efforts to collect, threatening letters or calls, all ignored by the subscriber, now debtor, only serve to reduce your chances of collecting.
    One final word about making calls to a customer's cell phones or home.  Do it during business hours and make only one call once you reach the subscriber.  Also, do not leave messages that you are calling about a past due debt, only that you are calling from the alarm company and need to speak to the subscriber.  You will find that people that owe money fall into a few categories:

  • those that want to pay but can't
  • those that can pay but won't
  • those that can't pay and won't
  • those than can pay and will pay when you remind them

    The last category isn't going to mind your phone call, even during dinner.  But watch out for calls to the other categories.  There is no one more indignant that you have disturbed their private time than a debtor.  And if you talk to their spouse, who is not a debtor, but even if he or she is, you'd think you committed a cardinal sin.  Many of these folks know the FDCPA better than you ever will and have their attorney on speed dial.  Your only hope then is that the phone company has terminated their service.
    You can reach our collection department by contacting Jesse Kirschenbaum, Esq at Jesse@KirschenbaumEsq.com or 516 747 6700 x 307 or calling our Contract Administrator Eileen Wagda EWagda@KirschenbaumEsq.com or 516 747 6700 x 312.  Eileen can assist with getting collections going and can also make sure you have the proper Standard Form Agreement so that we can represent you for collection and litigation.