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1.3.1.2 Consumer Complaints about Debt Collection

In 2016, debt collection was the leading source of consumer complaints to the CFPB63 and the FTC.64 According to the CFPB, the most frequent complaint in 2016 was for continued attempts to collect a debt that is not owed, followed by disclosure/verification of debts, communication tactics, false statements or representations, taking/threatening an illegal action, and improper contact or sharing of information with a third party.65

In the CFPB’s 2017 survey of consumer experiences with debt collection, respondents indicated that they had experienced a variety of debt collection problems.66 For example, of respondents who had been contacted about a debt:

  • • 53% “indicated that the debt was not theirs, was owed by a family member, or was for the wrong amount”;
  • • 63% “said they were contacted too often”;
  • • 36% were called after 9 p.m. or before 8 a.m.; and
  • • 27% were threatened.67

The FTC has noted that its complaint data “may understate the extent to which consumers have concerns about the practices of debt collectors” because some consumers, perhaps not aware of the FTC’s enforcement role, may only file complaints with collectors, creditors, or other enforcement agencies.68

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau began accepting consumer debt collection complaints in 2013 and makes available online some of its data, including the complaint issue, the response, and the name of the debt collector.69 Organizations have issued reports based on their own analysis of CFPB complaint data, which can be downloaded or manipulated online.70 Consumers filing complaints at the CFPB now also have the option of publicly sharing the narrative behind a complaint.71

The Better Business Bureau, a business-supported organization that promotes ethical market behavior, reported that in 2016 it received 16,817 complaints and more than three million inquiries about collection agencies.72 Separately, the Better Business Scam Tracker received reports of a number of debt-related scams in 2016, including tax collection scams (7902), debt collection scams (2798), and credit repair/debt relief scams (487).73

The Consumer Federation of America and North American Consumer Protection Investigators also survey state and local consumer protection agencies to ask about their top complaints. Credit and debt complaints ranked fourth in their most recent report.74

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