“Can debt collectors use an alias?” seems like a question with a simple answer, but a little research reveals that it’s not. One complication is that the laws regarding the use of aliases vary from state to state. Here are just a few examples of “opinions” I found that should not be considered legal advice from The National List:
- Aliases are legal in most states, in fact they are a requirement in California.
- California and federal laws bar a debt collector from misrepresenting his company identity, authority or purpose of his call. He can legally use an alias instead of his real name only if the collection agency keeps record of that alias along with the collector’s real name; he cannot use different aliases for each call. The Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act demands that anyone acting as a debt collector, including a credit card company representative or attorney’s paralegal, also follow all provisions of the law.
- Debt collection agency employees routinely use a fake name, “desk name,” or alias rather than their real name when calling Florida consumers or leaving messages.
- Aliases are forbidden under the Texas Debt Collections Act. They must tell you their real name, and the company they are calling from. If they don’t, they are liable to criminal as well as civil action.
- In Minnesota, debt collectors are required to register for an individual license. If they use an alias, that should be part of their registered information.
The ACA International website has a list of state statutes governing the use of aliases when contacting a consumer in an attempt to collect a debt: Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; District of Columbia; Hawaii; Illinois; Iowa; Kentucky; Maine; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Missouri; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Mexico; New York City; North Carolina; North Dakota; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Texas; Vermont; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming. If you are a member of ACA, you can find more detail on their website under State-Specific Information.
Federal Trade Commission
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “A distinctive collector may use an alias or pseudonym if it is used customarily. Further, a collector should not use a name that will misrepresent his/her identity or mislead the consumer. Whenever, the debt collector uses different names in multiple cases, it does not violate Section 807(14), if he/she uses the same name persistently when dealing with a specific consumer.”
Benefits of using an alias
There are legitimate and practical reasons to use an alias, “desk name,” or pseudonym. A recent NY Times article, “Debt Collectors Ask to Be Paid a Little Respect” (front page, June 13) contains a photo caption that states, “Because of the frequent rude reactions, Lesllie Rogers, a debt collector in Rochester, Minn., uses a pseudonym on calls.” The article is quite positive regarding debt collectors and quotes the ACA several times. “There really ought to be a law on how consumers behave towards debt collectors,” said Mark Neeb, incoming ACA President, whose employees routinely use aliases on the phone to protect their identity from hostile debtors.”
One contributor on ehow.com http://www.ehow.com/info_8493444_legal-rights-debt-collectors-california.html#ixzz2vlrLLURa says, “[Using a desk name] is a very common practice and I recommend it for security and safety of the collectors. Frankly, there are a lot of nut jobs out there and I have listened to collectors being threatened and even had one debtor make a scene at the office door.” Another collector commented that she has an exotic and difficult-to-pronounce name that she would rather not have to repeat continually throughout the day, so she obtained her license under a pseudonym.
Know the law in your state
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that you have to use the same name every time you talk to the same debtor. “You can’t call one day as Joe Schmoe and the next time as Pete Dewy.” Some states also require that the alias has to be included on the collector’s license. Where most agencies seem to get in trouble is by misrepresenting the name of their business or that the call is to collect a debt. “If they represent themselves as some other entity, then they are liable to follow the FDCPA even if they actually work for the original creditor.”
If you work for a collection agency or law firm, we highly recommend that you research the law regarding the use of an alias, desk name or pseudonym in your state, as it may be even more limiting than federal regulations. The above is not intended to be legal advice. It is for informational purposes only.
By Marti Lythgoe, NL Editor