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Customer Doesn't Want to be Called About Her Outstanding Debt, Sues Caller

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September 13, 2013

Customer Doesn't Want to be Called About Her Outstanding Debt, Sues Caller

By Miguel Leiva-Gomez, TMCnet Contributor

When someone owes you money and is overdue on a payment, you normally want to get a hold of that person without encountering any legal barriers to this process, especially when the client signs a contract saying that you can dial their phone number in the case that they've been irresponsible with payments. The environment for debt collection is starting to change with the help of several lawsuits, including Gager v. Dell (News - Alert) Financial Services, LLC.

This all started when a customer by the name of Ashley Gager applied for an online loan to buy a brand new computer from Dell. To apply for the loan, she gave Dell her cell phone number. Some time has passed and she fell severely behind on payments. Since Dell wanted to know where its money was, the company used an autodialer to call her, asking her at what point she plans to pay. This unnerved Ms. Gager, who sent Dell a letter, telling them to stop calling her. Dell ignored the letter and kept on, calling her about 40 times in three weeks. Ms. Gager filed a lawsuit against Dell under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which the court had dismissed under the premise that she could not revoke consent to phone calls once it had been given.

The story gets into a bit of a twist when the Court of Appeals reversed the decision, saying that consent can be revoked at any point, making it clear that there is nothing special about a debtor/creditor relationship. There were three things that it held into consideration in its decision: consent is revokable within common law; if there's an ambiguity within the TCPA, the customer is always in the right. Moreover, a decision by the FCC was recently applied in another completely different case that suggests that revocation of consent is indeed completely acceptable.

At this point, the application of this court's decision is not very damaging; Dell can still manually dial Gager's number to contact her. However, this could be one more step into intervening on behalf of the customer when the provider has been wronged (remember, she owed Dell money and signed a contract providing consent for autodialed calls). If a company wants to use an autodialer, they could face TCPA penalties of $500-1500 for each call. If a class-action lawsuit is filed, the damages could cost a company several million dollars (sometimes up in the billions). It only takes one case ruled in favor of the consumer for there to be a trend in consumer lawsuits that follow it. This isn't the last we'll see of TCPA lawsuits that could possibly act in the detriment of the company that was wronged.

Edited by Blaise McNamee

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