New York financial regulators proposed Thursday curbing abuse by debt collectors by requiring they verify all disputed claims, advise consumers when the statute of limitations has expired on debts and confirm settlement agreements in writing.
Regulations proposed by the Department of Financial Services also would authorize consumers to choose email for communications from collectors to reduce harassing phone calls and keep better records of interactions.
"Debt collectors frequently use abusive scare tactics to try to stack the deck against struggling families and squeeze outsized profits out of their financial misery," Department Superintendent Ben Lawsky said. "These reforms will help level the playing field for consumers."
New Yorkers filed more than 13,000 complaints about collection practices in the past 18 months, according to New York regulators. Problems are especially frequent from companies buying defaulted debts for pennies on the dollar. Complaints include harassing calls, contacting incorrect people and seeking incorrect amounts.
Federal law already prohibits collectors from using or threatening violence, using obscenities or profanities and calling repeatedly intentionally to harass debtors.
While they can sue, money exempt from judgments includes Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, pensions, welfare, disability benefits, veterans' benefits, alimony, child support and federal student loans or grants.
Several provisions would take effect upon publication of the rules in the State Register, following a 45-day public comment period and any revisions.
State regulators proposed specific protections against collection of debts after the statute of limitations has expired. Collectors would be required to advise debtors that time had passed, that they could now beat a lawsuit, and that any payment or promise to pay an expired debt could restart the clock on it, while failure to pay could damage their credit status.
The regulations also would prohibit collectors from accepting any payments on a defaulted debt without first providing debtors with "a clear and conspicuous written document" confirming the payment schedule. -- AP