Dear Consumer Ed: 

Can a mortgage company call your neighbors when you are late on your payment and ask questions about you?      

Consumer Ed says: 

It depends on what you mean by “mortgage company”—whether that company that is your mortgage lender, your loan servicer, or both.  Your mortgage lender is the company that actually loaned you the money to purchase your home; your loan servicer is the company that handles the day-to-day aspects of your loans following the original disbursement.  Your mortgage lender and loan servicer can be the same company.  If you do not know who your loan servicer is you can check this on your monthly billing statement. Or you can call the MERS Servicer Identification System at 888-679-6377, or visit the MERS website at www.mersinc.org/information-for-homeowners/my-mortgage-info.

If your mortgage company is your loan servicer, but not your mortgage lender, these phone calls to your neighbors are regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).   Under the FDCPA, it is legal for a third-party debt collector (such as a loan servicer) to call your neighbors, provided the content of the conversation is limited to three inquiries—your home address, your home phone number, and where you work.  All other inquiries are illegal.  It is also illegal for a third-party loan servicer, in making such inquiries, to disclose the fact that you are late on your payments or any other confidential information.

If your mortgage company is both your loan servicer and your mortgage lender, the restrictions set out in the FDCPA will not apply.  This is because technically the mortgage company is your creditor, rather than a “third-party” debt collector. 

However, there are other regulations recently put into place by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), the federal agency charged with oversight of all financial institutions, which apply to communications between covered financial entities and third parties.  Under the new CFPB regulations tighter rules will apply. Thus, regardless of whether the company was your mortgage lender or your loan servicer, if the company and the communication it had with your neighbor falls within CFPB regulations, then the company is required to give you notice and an opportunity to opt-out of its third-party disclosure procedures before releasing information about you to your neighbors or other unaffiliated third parties.   

You can learn more about these new federal regulations by visiting the CFPB’s web site at www.consumerfinance.gov/regulations.  If you believe your mortgage company and/or loan servicing company have disclosed protected information about you in a way that violates the law, you can to file a complaint with the CFPB at https://help.consumerfinance.gov/app/mortgage/ask.

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