You pull into your driveway and go check the mailbox. You sift through the mail quickly glancing at each piece. When you get inside your home, you begin to open each piece. One of the pieces of mail is from a debt collection company. Apparently, you failed to pay your SunPass toll from a couple of months back. You open another item and it too is from a debt collector. This collection letter informs you that you are past due on one of your credit cards. Depending on your financial circumstances, you normally would do one of two things: 1) call and pay the debt; or 2) throw the letters in the trash because you cannot afford to pay either of them. Either way, both letters end up in the garbage. From now on, your next decision after reading the collection letter should be to send it to a consumer protection attorney for review. You might be asking yourself “why would I do that”? Because many of these collection letters contain violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) which entitles you to up to $1,000 in damages. The icing on the cake is you don’t have to pay for your attorney’s fees either.
There are multiple ways a debt collection company can violate the FDCPA within a collection letter. Some happen more frequently than others. For instance, many collectors will attempt to tack on collection costs when the contract with the original creditor doesn’t allow for it. This is illegal because they are attempting to collect a fee when it wasn’t bargained for with the original creditor. See Gathuru v. Credit Control Services, Inc., 623 F.Supp.2d 113 (D. Mass. 2009). Further, many times collection companies will state a consumer owes a debt but won’t state specifically to whom. For example, they state a consumer owes a debt to “Other Creditors”. This is a violation of the FDCPA because it doesn’t inform the consumer who they are paying the debt to. See Klewinowski v. MFP, Inc., 2013 WL 5177865 (M.D. Fla. 2013). In essence, the consumer is left asking themselves who are these other creditors this debt collector is referencing in this letter? The last violation I will briefly discuss is very technical and quite frankly, minuscule at best. That said, it is a violation of the FDCPA nonetheless. In their initial letter, debt collectors are required to inform consumers of their rights to dispute the debt. Many times they will omit informing that validation and original creditor requests must be “in writing”. This is a violation of the FDCPA because it leads the consumer to believe that they can orally request this information, which is false. See Pearson v. Convergent Outsourcing, Inc., 2015 WL 5682344 ( M.D. Fla. 2015).
How to Act
The violations discussed above are only some of the many different ways collectors violate the FDCPA within their letters. To the untrained eye, a consumer, or an attorney for that matter, would never know these violations were within these collection letters. Quite frankly, many consumer protection attorneys don’t even review collection letters. I have reviewed thousands of collection letters and know exactly what to look for in order to find potential violations. If you are receiving collection letters, feel free to send them to me and I will review them at no-cost. You can call me at 727-344-0123 or e-mail me at Jon@berkmyer.com.