The CFPB’s Office of Older Americans has issued a report titled “a snapshot of debt collection complaints submitted by older consumers,” which provides information drawn from complaints submitted to the CFPB from July 2013 to September 2014. For purposes of the report, a complaint submitted by an “older consumer” is one that was submitted by or on behalf of someone who voluntarily reported their age as 62 or older.
The report indicates that over one-third of the approximately 25,800 complaints handled by the CFPB during the covered time period were about debt collection. (The report notes that debt collection complaints from consumers of all ages accounted for 35 percent of all complaints received by the CFPB during the same period.)
The report provides the following information on the complaints filed by older consumers:
- The most frequent debt collection complaint is that collectors demanded payment of a debt not owed, with many reporting that they may have the same name as the actual consumer alleged to owe the debt.
- Nearly one-third (29 percent) of complainants were unable to identify the debt being collected.
- Difficulty was reported in obtaining accurate and trustworthy information about alleged debts from collectors.
- Problems in the collection of medical debts were reported, including attempts to collect medical bills covered by insurance and first learning that a medical expense is considered unpaid when they review their credit report.
- Debt collectors were reported to repeatedly attempt to collect debts of deceased family members after the collectors were told the consumer was not responsible for the debt or there was no money left in the deceased borrower’s estate.
- Debt collectors were reported to use abusive communication tactics, such as repeated calls and offensive language, and to threaten dire consequences for non-payment.
The CFPB is likely to use the report’s data about older consumers’ complaints, as well as data drawn from debt collection complaints filed by other consumers, in support of its anticipated debt collection rulemaking. However, as we have previously noted, anyone who has reviewed a significant volume of debt collection complaints knows the unfortunate fact that a small number of legitimate complaints are frequently buried in an avalanche of totally unmeritorious complaints. Indeed, as we also have previously noted, the CFPB indicates on its website (but rarely mentions in its reports) that it makes no effort to verify the accuracy of the complaints it receives. Thus, if it wants to avoid basing its rulemaking on unwarranted conclusions, the CFPB needs to come to terms with the fact that consumer complaints about debt collection may not be reliable as evidence that the complained about conduct occurred.