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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released two bulletins and several action letters today, outlining new regulations and resources to help protect consumers from unlawful conduct by debt collectors. The CFPB also announced that it will begin taking consumer complaints regarding collection practices beginning today.

There are an estimated 4,500 debt collection firms in the U.S., hired by banks and creditors to collect payments from about 30 million Americans. With the average amount owed by these consumers at about $1,400, debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry. And while many collection agencies operate legally and treat consumers fairly, some firms that may use deceptive practices now face clearer penalties for these unethical methods of collection.

The first bulletin published today delineates that any entity falling under the jurisdiction of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (which created the CFPB), can be held accountable for “unfair, deceptive or abusive acts or practices.” According to this bulletin, unfair practices include conduct that causes, or is likely to cause, injury (monetary, emotional, or otherwise) that is not easily avoidable. Deceptive acts include representations or omissions that mislead a consumer, whose interpretation of that act is reasonable. Abusive practices interfere with a consumer’s ability to understand terms of service and take advantage of consumers’ lack of knowledge or inability to protect their interests. All three of these kinds of practices are illegal under the Dodd-Frank Act.

The second bulletin provides guidance to companies about compliance with both the Dodd-Frank Act and the 1977 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, particularly with regards to informing consumers about the impact of payments in debt collection may have on credit reports and scores. According to the release, paying a debt will more than likely not improve a credit score, credit report, or creditworthiness. If a debt collector states that it would, this is considered a deceptive practice.

To protect yourself from wrongdoing and be better informed about your own financial standing, the CFPB also released five action letters for consumers in need of guidance to communicate to debt collectors. Consumers are encouraged to send these letter templates to collectors in situations where they need more information, want to dispute a debt, want to restrict contact with a collector, have hired a lawyer, or want to cease contact with a collector entirely.

If you believe that you’ve been on the receiving end of any of the unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices, the CFPB is also taking complaints related to debt collection. These debts include any kind of consumer debt — from student loans to mortgages, auto loans, credit card debt and medical bills. You can file a complaint against both the collection firm as well as the original company with which you held the debt, by going online to www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint or calling the toll-free number (855) 411-CFPB (2372).

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