New Budget Could Open the Gate for Robocalls to Your Cellphone

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A provision in the federal budget that creates an exception for some debt collectors runs counter to recent progress by the Federal Communications Commission to restrict non-emergency robocalls.

It’s currently illegal for companies to robocall your cellphone without your permission, unless it’s for an emergency. But that could soon change.

A new provision in the proposed federal budget would amend the Telephone Consumer Protection Act to permit auto-dialed debt-collection calls and texts on cellphones, but only for debts owned or guaranteed by the federal government, including federal student loans, mortgages and taxes, MarketWatch reports.

“[The proposed change] will unleash all of these calls to people who don’t want them,” Margot Saunders, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center, told MarketWatch.

Saunders said extra unwanted robocalls could be harmful to consumers, especially low-income individuals on a prepaid cellphone plan.

“It costs them money and it may reduce their minutes such that their minutes aren’t available when they need them for emergencies,” she explained.

The provision loosening robocall regulations is supported by President Obama and the Education Department as a way to reduce student loan delinquencies and defaults, according to The Washington Post. Education officials argue that student-loan servicers could help borrowers stay current on their loans if they could call them on their cellphones.

“Many student loan borrowers, especially those that may just be graduating, move frequently in addition to no longer having landline phone numbers,” education officials wrote in a White House report. “It can be difficult for servicers to find a borrower except by using a cellphone number.”

In stark contrast to this proposed robocall amendment, the Federal Communications Commission has taken recent strides to limit annoying robocalls. In 2014, the FCC said it received 215,000 complaints from consumers about unwanted auto-dialed phone calls. The FCC has declined to comment on the new provision.

According to Consumerist, if the budget bill, including the robocall provision, is passed, the FCC would have nine months to implement it, “meaning anyone who may have missed a federal student loan payment, have a federal tax issue, a problem with their home loan through the FHA could be receiving nuisance, automated calls as soon as next summer.”

What do you think of the budget provision that loosens regulations for robocalls for government-backed debts? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

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