FDCPA Limits on the Envelope Containing a Collection Letter (1)

In a recent opinion, the Third Circuit Appellate Court held in
Douglas v.
Convergent Outsourcing
, that a debtor’s account number
that was not printed on the outside of the collection envelope but
was visible through a window, was considered a
violation of the FDCPA.   Under the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act (“FDCPA”) a debt collector is prohibited fromusing
“any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s address,
on anyenvelope when communicating with a consumer by use of the
mails.”  15 U.S.C § 1692f.  In response to this
section of the statute, courts have held that a collection agency
may use its name on the envelope in addition to its address if the
name of the business does not indicate that it is in the business
of collecting debts.  On the contrary, some courts have
allowed fo ra broader interpretation of the statute indicating a
collection agency may also include “benign language” on the outside
of the envelope including phrases suchas “priority letter,”
“immediate response requested” or “personal and
confidential.” 

In Douglas v. Convergent Outsourcing, the consumer
filed a lawsuit under the FDCPA alleging the collection agency
violated the statute when it sent her a collection letterfor a
delinquent T-Mobil bill with her account number visible through a
clear window on the envelope.  The issue before the court was
two-fold:  first, wasi ncluding the account number on the
collection letter that was visible through a screen considered part
of the envelope; and second, was the account number”any language or
symbol, other than the debt collector’s address,”and thus
prohibited by the FDCPA?  In favor of the plaintiff and in
support of the FDCPA, the appellate court responded with yes to
both questions. 

Responding to the first question, the court held that it did not
matter that the account number did not actually appear on the
envelope. Visible through a screen that can be seen by anyone
should be considered the same as printing the account number
directly on the envelope for purposesof the FDCPA.  Second,
the court held that Convergent’s choice to use an envelope with a
screen showing the debtor’s account number cannot be considered
benign. Making the account number visible through a window
goes against the purpose of the statute to protect debtors from an
invasion of privacy; and this disclosure of Douglas’ account number
is just that….an invasion which cannot be considered benign.

If you believe your rights have been violated under the FDCPA
and you would like to discuss your situation in greater detail, contact SmithMarco P.C. for a completely
free case review.