Officials at ACA International, an association representing collection agencies, are gathering information to help develop ways to lessen consumer complaints about the collection industry.

Debt collection was the No. 1 subject of consumer complaints to state attorneys general both last year and in 2007, according to the National Association of Attorneys General and its annual survey (CCR Newsline, 9/3). At about the time those survey results were released last month, ACA reported it was looking into developing a national collection dispute resolution program designed to resolve complaints consumers have against collectors in a timely, cost-effective and unbiased manner.

ACA also is considering the creation of a national debt collector registry that would require all collectors to be registered and pass an examination based on certain benchmarks. The association says the registry would increase accountability by enabling industry employers to track complaints filed against individual collectors. Collections & Credit Risk, a CCR Newsline sister publication, first reported on that concept in early 2008.

"At this point we are still in the early stages of researching and exploring all of the potential options, models and possibilities for how both of these programs might look and work," says ACA's spokesperson John Nemo. "We're also talking with key thought leaders inside and outside of our association and the credit and collection industry to gather their thoughts, information and opinions."

Nemo tells Collections & Credit Risk that a dispute resolution program would decrease the amount of complaints by improving the lines of communication with consumers.

"Right now there is a patchwork system in place where a consumer can complain to several different state or federal entities. Consumer complaints are oftentimes not validated or resolved if they are indeed legitimate," Nemo says.

"It is our belief that communication is key, and creating a national dispute resolution program would ensure that consumers are heard, complaints are validated and collectors are allowed to rectify legitimate complaints in a timely fashion," he says.

ACA believes the increased accountability, visibility and enforcement actions that the national debt collector registry and dispute resolution program could potentially create would help "weed out the fringe element of bad actors whose illegal and unethical actions continue to hurt the industry as a whole," Nemo says.

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