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Third Circuit Rules Debt Collection Letter Misleads Consumer on How to Request Validation of the Debt

In Caprio v. Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group LLC, Past _due _imgthe plaintiff filed a complaint against Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group, LLC ("HRRG") alleging violations under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") D.C. Civil No. 2-11-cv-02877 (New Jersey).  On appeal from the New Jersey District Court, the Third Circuit held that a collection letter sent by HRRG, could have more than one interpretation using the "least sophisticated consumer" standard and therefore violated the FDCPA.

In December of 2012, Caprio received a collection letter from HHRG attempting to collect an alleged debt.  Caprio argued the wording in the letter was confusing to the "least sophisticated consumer" and could encourage him to follow improper procedures thus violating his rights under the FDCPA.  The letter received from HRRG stated,
 
"If we can answer any questions, or if you feel you do not owe this amount, please call us toll free at 800-984-9115 or write us at the above address. This is an attempt to collect a debt. Any information obtained will be used for that purpose. (NOTICE: SEE REVERSE SIDE FOR IMPORTANT INFORMATION)."

On the back of the of the collection letter, HRRG had written the FDCPA mandated disclosures:

This is an attempt to collect a debt from a debt collection agency.  Any information obtained will be used for that purpose.

Pursuant to Sec. 809 of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office in writing within 30 days from receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will: obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of a judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. If you request this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice, this office will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.

Under the FDCPA, if a consumer fails to dispute the debt in writing within 30 days of receipt of the collection letter, he waives his right to request validation from the collector.  Caprio argued that a consumer could be confused by the letter and may be unsure which route to takeā€¦.should you call to collector and dispute the debt, which could essentially waive your right to dispute within 30 days or should you write a letter, which would be the proper method of disputing.  While the District Court disagreed with Caprio's interpretation of the letter as confusing, on appeal, the Third Circuit overturned the ruling and concluded that the collection letter was in fact deceptive and could be misinterpreted.  For this reason, the Third Circuit concluded that the language on the front of the collection letter was in violation of the FDCPA. 

If you are having problems with debt collection or feel your rights have been violated pursuant to the FDCPA, contact SmithMarco P.C. for a free case review.

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