A report from the telecom industry showed that at least 60% of all calls go to voicemail.
This number indicates that there’s a good chance that most of your calls are going to end up on an answering machine.
Undoubtedly, it’s essential to be prepared to leave a suitable voicemail message if you want to hear back from the debtor.
For debt collectors, however, calling itself is a tricky path to tread. So what’s the catch with voicemails? Can debt collectors leave voicemails? What’s legal and what’s not? What are the best practices to ensure that you comply with FDCPA rules?
This post answers all those questions.
Can debt collectors leave voicemails?
While the short answer to this question is “Yes,” it isn’t as straightforward as you may think. When it comes to debt collection, many factors come into play that can render your voicemail illegal.
While these regulations are created for debt collection communications in general, it’s good practice to follow them while leaving voicemails to be on the safe side.
That being said, let’s look at what can be considered legal and what can be illegal when leaving a debt collection voicemail.
What’s not legal
Let’s start with understanding what not to do when leaving a debt collection voicemail. The voicemail you drop could be considered illegal if:
- The answering machine is shared/public: If the family shares the answering machine, there is a possibility that someone else may overhear the message. This would be a violation since you can’t disclose any information about the debt to anyone but the debtor.
- Not disclosing your identity: Debt collectors must reveal their identity. So if you don’t let them know who you are in the voicemail, that is another violation. Assuming a false identity in this case, too, is a severe violation.
- Leaving voicemails on work or family members’ phones: Debt collection calls cannot be made to anyone else other than the debtor (except when skip tracing, that too you can call them only once). This is why leaving voicemails on the work of family members’ phones is out of the question.
- Leveraging threats or abusive language: Leveraging threats and abuses for debt recovery is illegal in all forms, let alone debt collection voicemails.
- Mentioning details about the debt: The FDCPA protects a debtor’s privacy. So any information on the debt that someone else could overhear is also not advised.
How can debt collectors leave voicemails legally
While all those regulations may seem to limit the scope of the debt collection voicemail message, keep in mind that you can still legally leave a voicemail if:
- The answering machine is private: You can leave a voicemail if you’ve called on a personal cell phone (this is assuming that you’ve called them using a manual dialer or a TCPA compliant dialer). If you are sure that the debtor lives alone, you can leave a message on the landline.
- If you’re provided all the required information: This includes identifying yourself and the organization you’re making the collection on behalf of and a Mini-Miranda (i.e., a statement that mentions the call is about debt collection).
Leaving a debt collection voicemail that is “legal” may seem complex and highly restrictive, but there are a few simple scripts that you can follow.
Debt collection voicemail script
As mentioned earlier, a well-thought-out voicemail script can blow away all your worries about maintaining compliance.
Here are three scripts that you can use when leaving debt collection voicemails.
The Foti message was drafted after the case of Foti vs. NCO Financial Systems. The script aims to provide all the required information to the listener while ensuring data privacy and third-party disclosure.
Here’s how the message goes.
This is a message for [Consumer’s name]. If we have reached the wrong number for this person, please call us at [phone number #1] to remove your phone number from our list. If you are not [Consumer’s name], please hang up now. If you are [Consumer’s name], please continue to listen to this message. *PAUSE*
[Consumer’s name], you should not listen to this message so that other people can hear it as it contains personal and private information. *PAUSE*
This is [collector’s name] from [company’s name]. This is an attempt to collect a debt by a debt collector. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. Please get in touch with me about an important business matter at [phone #2].
The Zortman script is an alternative to the Foti message, ensuring you don’t reveal any information whatsoever. The risk of third-party disclosure is reduced even more in this script.
Here’s what the message includes:
This is a call from [collector’s name] with [collection agency’s name]. [Collection agency’s name] is a debt collector. Please call us back at [Phone number].
Safe harbor language message
This is quite a recent script developed after the FDCPA’s Safe Harbour Rule (which will come into effect from Nov 30, 2021). With this rule in effect, debt collectors can now leave limited content voicemails, which can increase the chances of getting a call back (since the receiver is not aware that the caller is a debt collector).
Here’s what the message is:
This is [Collector’s name] calling for [Debtor’s name]. Please contact me at [phone number].
Ideally, these are the safest scripts that you can use when leaving debt collection voicemails. Use them to inspire your voicemail messages (try not to deviate from them too much).
Debt collection voicemail best practices you should follow.
The last thing you want is your debt collection agency being dragged through a long and expensive court case. Complying with the FDCPA rules can help you ensure that you never do.
While following the above scripts takes care of most of the regulations, you can still take a couple of added measures to stay safe.
Here are some best practices that you can follow to keep you out of trouble and to ensure a good reputation for your agency.
1. Listen to the answering machine message carefully
Whenever you come across an answering machine, carefully listen to the outgoing message. If you don’t know whether the machine is shared or the debtor lives alone, this can be your chance to figure that out.
If the answering machine plays a message like, “You have reached James (debtor name), please leave a message,” there’s a good chance that the answering machine is personal. In that case, it may be safe to drop a voicemail message.
However, if the message goes something like “You’ve reached the Johnsons, please leave a message,” it most likely is a shared machine, in which case, avoid leaving the message.
2. Include a policy in your voicemail for third parties to avoid listening to the message
This strategy inspired the Foti message. What it means is that your voicemail script can include a line stating that the message is for the debtor and that anyone else listening to it should stop. Make sure to add a long pause after the statement giving the third-party listener time to act accordingly.
If the third party continues listening to the message, it would be considered eavesdropping, in which case the debt collector would not be violating the third-party disclosure provision as per the FDCPA.
3. Create a voicemail script to leave voicemails
Having a voicemail message script can ensure that your debt collection voicemails are in compliance with the FDCPA regulations. It leaves no room for error since the caller just has to read the script without much thought.
Dropping a voicemail from memory each time poses a lot of chances of error. Callers may miss out on critical details of the message or even say more than what’s necessary.
Plus, if you have a voicemail script ready, you can also get it double-checked by your attorney to make sure you maintain compliance.
4. Avoid leaving messages with legal disclosures
These legal disclosures could include debt validation information, details on legal action against the debtor, etc.
You risk disclosing private information to third parties that the FDCPA privacy rule prohibits by giving out these details. To communicate any of this information, it’s best to leave a voicemail asking the debtor to get back to you and discuss it over a call.
Hopefully, this post answered the question “can debt collectors leave voicemails” in detail.
Now that you’re equipped with the do’s and don’ts and the scripts to follow, the next step would be to implement them. Ideally, you should be using a call center software that allows you to personalize the voicemail script by automatically filling in the details of the call recipient.
In CallHub, you can craft a calling script (which will include the voicemail script too in case the caller comes across a machine) with merge tags like debtor name, the debt amount, caller name, etc. These merge tags extract data from your CRM and fill it out in the script accordingly.
In case your calling tool doesn’t have this provision, you can give CallHub a try. Sign up here for free and test it out.