Under What Circumstances Can You Stop Collection Calls?
June 13th, 2014 by A Licensed Insolvency Trustee
By Mark Silverthorn – Former Collection Lawyer and Collection Industry Insider
You may be very upset because you are receiving collection calls! If these calls are made at your workplace they can cause you a tremendous amount of grief, particularly if the bill collector speaks to a receptionist, fellow employee, or supervisor. Collection calls at your place of employment may harm your reputation with your co-workers or your boss. In some instances, workplace collection calls might result in a job loss. When I represented consumers some clients complained that their boss threatened to fire them if they received any more collection calls.
Workplace calls are not the only type of collection calls you might want to avoid. Collectors might call you on your cell phone or on your landline at home. If a collector calls your home phone number then he could end up speaking to a member of your household such as your spouse, partner, or even your children. Your creditors, and their collection agents, have the right to call your friends, acquaintances, and family members for the sole purpose of obtaining your current address or phone number. It is, however, illegal for collectors to (i) disclose the existence of your debt to others, or (ii) in the case of a collection agency, to disclose the name of the collection agency to others—which could result in the disclosure of the existence of your debt.
“When I represented consumers I would often send letters to collection agencies—and in some instances to creditors–demanding that they stop making calls to my client, and in accordance with provincial law that all future communications were to be made to my office. It would not be unheard of for one of my clients to receive five to ten calls from a collector in a single day. In one case, a collector called my client’s mother 20 times over the space of a few days leaving messages with her asking my client to return the call.”
Mark Silverthorn, author, and former collection lawyer and collection industry insider
This blog will answer the question “How can you stop collection calls?”
I am going to address this topic in four major sections:
- stopping collection calls on money owed to a bank
- stopping debt-related robocalls
- your rights under provincial law to stop collection calls
- using laws restricting workplace calls to stop collection calls
In many instances, if you are receiving collection calls you might be able to stop these calls. To do so, however, you will need to take some action to stop these calls. This might involve writing a letter to the firm making these calls. It might also mean that you will have to make a written complaint against the organization which is making these collection calls to you alleging that they have broken the law.
1. You can stop collection calls on a bank debt
If you are receiving collection calls on monies owed to a bank then you can stop these bank collection calls by doing one or more of the following:
- by sending a registered letter to the firm making the collection calls requesting that you only receive communications in writing
- by sending a registered letter to the firm making the collection calls stating that (i) you dispute the debt and (ii) you intend to bring the matter before a dispute resolution body, or you are prepared to resolve the matter in court, or
- by sending a letter to the firm making the collection calls (i) requesting that it communicate only with your legal advisor, and (ii) providing a telephone number and address for your legal advisor
This right to stop collection calls on money owed to a bank is very broad in scope. You can stop bank collection calls, as well as collection calls from a collection agency or even a law firm attempting to collect a debt on behalf of a bank.
Under federal Debt Collection Practices Regulations (SOR-2009-257) enacted under the federal Bank Act it is illegal for you to receive collection calls after the recipient of your letter referred to above receives it.
2. Those robocalls you are receiving might be illegal
Did you know those robocalls you are receiving might be illegal? If you receive a collection call the first thing you will typically hear over the phone is the voice of a live collector who is seeking a payment from you. But this is not always the case. It is becoming more and more common in the collection industry for those collecting accounts to use automated messages. Those organizations using automated messages for the purposes of collecting a debt must not run afoul of the federal Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) whose mandate includes protecting Canadians when they use a telephone. Earlier this year the CRTC had discussions with representatives from the collection industry at which time the CRTC raised concerns about the use of automated messages in the debt collection process because the identity of (i) the company making the call was not disclosed, nor (ii) in some cases, the company on whose behalf the call was being made.
New CRTC directives require automated messages to disclose caller’s identity
I have been informed that in the first half of 2014 the CRTC advised collection agencies that if they contact a consumer using an automated message the collection agency must disclose the name of the creditor or the name of the collection agency. If a collection agency were to comply with this CRTC directive then it could conceivably be breaking provincial law across the country. I am referring to provincial laws banning disclosure of the existence of a debt to anyone other than the debtor, something commonly referred to as third party disclosure in the collection industry.
Provincial law prohibits the disclosure of your debt’s existence to anyone other than yourself
In virtually every province it is illegal, under provincial law regulating the conduct of collection agencies, for a collection agency to disclose the fact—to anyone any than the debtor—that monies are owed to a creditor. As a result of this law, when a collection agency leaves a voicemail message requesting a return call the name of the collection agency is not mentioned in the voicemail message.
If the name of the collection agency were mentioned on a voicemail message, and the message was listened to by someone other than the debtor, then an illegal third party disclosure would occur. An example will help illustrate this point. Imagine if your name were John Smith and your 12 year-old daughter listens to the following voicemail message on your landline at home.
This is a message for John Smith. This is Brian White from ABC Collections. Please return my call at 1 (888) 123-7777.
If John Smith’s daughter listens to this message then it would be reasonable for her to conclude that her father owes money because a company which would appear to be a collection agency has requested a return call.
Making a complaint if you are receiving robocalls
This recent action by the CRTC has placed creditors and collection agencies who want to use automated messages between a rock and a hard place. It might be impossible for a collection agency to comply with the CRTC directives requiring caller identification without breaking provincial law banning third party disclosure.
If you are receiving automated messages from an organization seeking payment of a debt and the automated message discloses the name of your creditor or the name of your collection agency then you might want to make a written complaint to the following organizations, alleging that provincial law has been broken–provincial law prohibiting third party disclosure—and you should demand that they stop all further phone calls to you:
- the government agency in your province responsible for licensing and regulating collection agencies
- senior management at the collection agency, and
- senior management at the creditor
Collection industry sources have advised me that the CRTC is currently auditing collection agencies for compliance with the CRTC’s new directives requiring automated messages to identify the caller. The $64,000 question is whether or not provincial bodies regulating collection agencies will enforce provincial law banning third party disclosure as it relates to automated messages. It is possible that collection agencies might be instructed by provincial regulators to stop using automated messages.
3. Your rights under provincial law to stop collection calls
Earlier in this post I set out how you could stop collection calls if you were receiving calls on a bank debt. Depending upon where you live in Canada, you might have the right to stop collection agencies from calling you, regardless of who you owe the money to.
In some, but not all, provinces and territories consumers have a legal right to send a letter to a collection agency, containing particular language, after which it is illegal for that collection agency to make any more collection calls with respect to that debt. This right, arising under provincial or territorial law, is not available to the residents of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, PEI, Newfoundland, the Yukon or Nunavut. These rights are summarized in the following table.
|Province/Territory||The right to stop collection calls from a collection agency|
|Alberta||Advising the agency in writing
|British Columbia||Advising those making the collection calls – persons employed by a creditor, collection agency, or law firm – in writing:that all future communications are to be made in writing
|Nova Scotia||Advising the agency in writing to communicate with the consumer’s lawyer and providing the lawyer’s name and contact information|
|Ontario||Advising the agency by registered mail
|Quebec||Advising the agency in writing
|NWT||Advising the agency in writing
4. You might be able to stop collection calls at your workplace
Some, but not all, provinces ban or severely restrict a collection agency’s right to call a consumer at their place of work. This means that it might be illegal for a collection agency to call you at your workplace. The following table summarizes restrictions on workplace calls by collection agencies under provincial law.
|Province||Restrictions on Workplace Calls By a Collection Agency Under Provincial Law|
|Alberta||Prohibited if a consumer asks the collector not to call at work and the consumer makes reasonable alternative arrangements to discuss the debt|
|British Columbia*||Workplace calls are only permitted in the following circumstances:
|New Brunswick||Banned, except where consumer consents|
|Quebec||Workplace calls are only permitted in the following circumstances:
*Restrictions on workplace calls under B.C. law apply not only to collection agencies but also to creditors, and law firms.
That bill collector calling you at work might be breaking federal law
If you are receiving collection calls on a bank debt then it might be illegal, under federal law, for those making these collection calls to call you at your workplace.
It is illegal for a bank, or a collection agency or a law firm, acting on the bank’s behalf, to call a consumer at the consumer’s workplace unless it satisfies one or more of the following:
- the organization making the collection calls does not have the home address or home telephone number for the consumer,
- attempts to contact the consumer at their home telephone number have been unsuccessful, or
- those making the collection calls obtain written authorization from the consumer to call the consumer at work
Making a complaint if you receive illegal workplace calls
In the previous paragraphs, I have set out–under both provincial and federal law–when it is illegal for you to receive workplace calls. In a perfect world collection agencies would comply with laws banning or restricting workplace calls. In fact, a senior executive at a collection agency recently confirmed that “Collection agencies routinely make workplace calls across Canada.” This means that collection agencies in Canada today regularly make illegal workplace calls to the residents of British Columbia, Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Furthermore, based upon my knowledge of the collection industry, I would be shocked if creditors were not routinely making illegal workplace calls to the residents of British Columbia.
If you are on the receiving end of an illegal workplace call then you should make a written complaint:
- to the government agency in your province responsible for licensing and regulating collection agencies
- to senior management at the collection agency, and
- to senior management at the creditor
There is a good chance that your written complaint will result in the end of these collection calls from the firm calling you.
Stopping collection calls by enlisting the assistance of a Licensed Insolvency Trustee
Furthermore, you can stop collection calls immediately by filing a consumer proposal or filing for personal bankruptcy – after which it is illegal for a creditor, or anyone acting on behalf of the creditor, to demand money from you. As a practical matter, it is very rare for a consumer to receive a collection call after filing a consumer proposal or filing for personal bankruptcy. To learn more about consumer proposals and personal bankruptcy you should contact a local Licensed Insolvency Trustee.