MADIGAN: CHANGES IN ILLINOIS COLLECTIONS LAW WILL PROTECT BORROWERS AND ID THEFT VICTIMS
Chicago —Attorney General Lisa Madigan today announced that a recently enacted law will afford Illinois consumers greater protections from abusive debt collection practices.
Drafted by Madigan's office and sponsored by State Senator Don Harmon ( D-Oak Park ) and State Representative Marlow H. Colvin (D-Chicago), the Illinois Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (P.A. 95-0437) will ensure that consumers receive the same level of protection under state law as they receive under federal debt collection laws.
Madigan proposed the legislation after debt collection complaints filed with her office jumped more than 65 percent in 2006 from the previous year to a total of 2,210.
Debt collection complaints are on the rise nationwide. According to the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), debt collection complaints was the second most common type of consumer complaint filed with state attorneys general in 2006, up from eighth in 2005.
“The complaints filed with my Consumer Fraud Bureau tell a story of an industry that engages in abusive tactics and pursues consumers even when shown they have the wrong person, a victim of identity theft, or the debt has been paid or settled,” Madigan said.
Madigan is especially concerned that some debt collectors are pressuring consumers into paying off debts that they do not legally owe. In 2006, 210 complaints to her office concerned collection agencies that were demanding payment of debts that turned out to be the result of identity theft.
“These consumers were effectively victimized twice,” Madigan said, “first by the identity thief, then by the collections agency.” In response to this problem, the new law requires collectors to suspend collection activities and investigate when a consumer notifies them that a debt is the result of identity theft. If the investigation confirms that the consumer does not owe the debt, the collector must permanently stop collection activities and notify the credit bureaus to remove any adverse information relating to the debt from the consumer's file.
“There are many debt collection agencies that intentionally harass consumers,” Colvin said. “This new law provides greater protection to those in debt and will reduce the number of instances where aggressive collectors needlessly harass debtors.”
In addition to creating a dispute procedure for victims of identity theft, the new law updates Illinois law so that it more closely resembles the Federal Fair Debt and Collections Practices Act. Specifically, the Act harmonizes state law with federal law by:
“This legislation clarifies what is acceptable debt collection practice,” Harmon said. “It eliminates any potential conflicts with federal regulation, protects consumers from unreasonable and unfair collection methods, and gives relief to those who may have been victimized by identity theft. I think it's a benefit to both the consumer and the collection agencies.”
Madigan noted that consumer advocates attribute the rise in debt collection complaints to a number of factors. These factors include the explosive growth of the debt buyer industry in recent years and the rise in consumer debt. Debt buyers, some of whom collect old debt that they purchase for pennies on the dollar, file cases by the thousands in overworked courts and sometimes fail to keep track of critical information, such as proof of the original debt and payment records. Debt buyers have not been covered under existing state law until now.
The new law also gives the Attorney General authority to enforce its key provisions—authority the agency will share with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.The law, which was signed by the governor on August 27, will take effect January 1, 2008.