Unfortunately for upstanding debt-collection companies, the historic behavior of some actors in the industry created a stereotypical -- and largely untrue today -- picture of debt collectors engaging in illegal or unethical tactics. To put this to rest, today's debt-collection professionals must carefully adhere to consumer protection and related laws that regulate collection practices, such as the FDCPA, which we discussed in Part 1 of this post.
In this Part 2, we will discuss ethical codes created by the main professional organizations for debt collectors: ACA International and the Commercial Collection Agency Association. These ethics codes self-regulate the collection industry through membership in collective trade organizations that can expel or suspend members for violations.
ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals
The ACA, founded in 1939 with over 230,000 individual employee members, is a global trade association of consumer collectors that not only maintains ethical standards, but also provides its members with educational and professional resources and services. ACA also has affiliated state and regional units, including the Great Lakes Credit & Collection Association, Indiana Collectors Association, Michigan Association of Collection Agencies and Ohio Receivables Management Association.
The ACA International Code of Conduct grows from the ACA's values of leadership, respect, service, integrity, responsibility and education. The organization is committed to enhancing the reputation of the industry, growing respect for it and supporting honor and integrity within it.
The Code proscribes behavior vis-à-vis other ACA-member collectors individually and collectively, business relationships, consumers and the industry as a whole. Throughout the Code, specific ethical standards and behavioral expectations are based on these themes:
- Legal compliance
The entire Code is available through the link above, but a few provisions are notable:
- The ACA expects members to create internal policies and procedures reflecting the Code and designed to inform and train employees in its expectations.
- To prevent confusion, it may be necessary to provide more or different information than the law requires to "facilitate understanding and dispel misinformation."
- Members shall act "without malice."
According to CreditCards.com, ACA's general counsel has said that the organization expels about a dozen members annually for violating its ethics code.
Commercial Collection Agency Section of the Commercial Law League of America
While ACA is consumer-collection focused, the Commercial Collection Agency Association or CCAA, also called the Commercial Collection Agency Section of the Commercial Law League of America or CLLA, is the premier professional organization for collection agencies that focus on business collections.
CCAA has a Code of Ethics and Declaration of Fair Practices to guide member behavior as it relates to creditors, debtors and attorneys. A sampling of provisions:
- A member agency may not (unless state law allows) practice law, hold itself out as a lawyer or start judicial proceedings.
- A member agency should uphold high standards of "fairness, honesty and courtesy."
- A member agency should not imply through its name that it is a unit of government or a court.
- A member agency must avoid "deceptive practices" that would obscure its true identity, such as stating it is an investigator.
- A member agency should avoid harassment by phone, show "due consideration for debtor's problems" and not threaten to hurt a debtor's "credit reputation."
- And others
An experienced collections attorney can provide advice about collection-company compliance with these professional codes of ethics as well as with applicable federal, state and local laws related to ethical conduct.