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Debt Collection Misleading and deceptive conduct - letter language under the microscope

Tuesday, March 05, 2013 - Posted by Philip Harvey

In the US, a court of Appeals made a ruling on the language of a debt collection letter against a collection agency (therefore breaching the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act).
A lower court had previously ruled in favour of the debt collection agency.

The language being used in a debt collection letter was in dispute. A debtor had received a collection letter from Healthcare Revenue Recovery Group. The letters 2nd paragraph 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 collection letter it stated:

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 judgement [sic] and mail you a copy of such judgement [sic] 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.

The debtors contention was that a consumer could be confused by the second paragraph where it refers to "please call", where on the back of the letter, all disputes must be "in writing".

The previous court had ruled that the "please call" language would not confuse "the least sophisticated debtor".

The appeal court however ruled that it would be confusing to the "least sophisticated debtor".

What can we take from this ruling? Always ensure your message / communication is consistent, and consistently applied through your debt collection process.


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