Companies under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau received bulletins Wednesday, reminding them that debt collectors will be held accountable for unlawful conduct when trying to get a debt paid. 

According to the bulletin, unlawful conduct includes: threatening action that the debt collector doesn’t have the authority to pursue; fairly representing the character, amount or legal status of the debt; misrepresenting that a consumer’s debt would be waived or forgiven; or failing to properly post payments or credit to a consumer’s account with payments. 

In a second bulletin, released today, the CFPB warns companies about statements they make about how paying a debt will affect a consumer’s credit score, credit report, or creditworthiness.

The bureau is concerned that some of these statements – like telling consumers that paying a debt would improve their credit score – may be deceptive. The bulletin highlights examples of potentially deceptive claims debt collectors may be making to consumers about their credit reports and credit scores. 

“These bulletins make clear that it doesn’t matter who is collecting the debt—unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices are illegal,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. 

He added, “Consumers need options to help them secure fair and respectful treatment from those debt collectors that fail to abide by the law. They can protect themselves by using our action letters to communicate with debt collectors and by submitting a complaint to us if they believe they are harmed by illegal conduct.”

An estimated 4,500 debt collection firms exist in the U.S., with debt collection becoming a multi-billion dollar industry. As of the first quarter of 2013, almost 15% of all credit reports, covering an estimated 30 million consumers, show collection items from debt collection, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. 

These consumers had at least one debt in collections for amounts that averaged out to $1,400. 

“Many collection firms play by the rules and treat consumers fairly, but those that do not can cause financial harm to consumers and undermine the marketplace,” the CFPB said in a press release. 

It added, “Banks and other creditors may collect their own debt. They also may hire a debt collector or sell the debt to third parties. Those third-party debt buyers may collect the debt themselves or sell it again.”

Additionally, the CFPB said it is now accepting debt collection complaints and is publishing five action letters for consumers to consider using in corresponding with debt collectors.

These letters are intended to help consumers obtain valuable information about claims being made against them or may help consumers protect themselves from inappropriate or unwanted collection activities.

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