The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is designed to prevent abusive debt collection practices and to ensure that consumers have a clear idea of their rights and obligations and are not confused by anything that may be said to them in debt collection letters. However, the complaint for this class action claims that one third-party debt collector did not properly inform consumers about their right to dispute their debt.
The class for this action is all consumers with an address in Connecticut who were sent an initial collection letter by the Law Offices of Howard Lee Schiff in an attempt to collect a consumer debt owed to Barclays Bank Delaware or UPromise Mastercard that includes the validation paragraph reproduced below.
Congress passed the FDCPA in 1977 because it felt the public had an interest in preventing abusive debt collection practices. It said that “abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to material instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of privacy.”
Another reason it wanted to stop abusive collection practices was to make sure that debt collectors who did not use abusive practices were not at a disadvantage to abusers.
Plaintiff Francine Bashir’s alleged debt was a consumer debt that arose from her UPromise Mastercard with Barclays Bank Delaware. At some point, the debt was assigned for collection to the Law Offices of Howard Lee Schiff.
Around April 15, 2018, the Law Offices sent her a debt collection letter which the complaint presumes is the first communication from them to Bashir about the debt.
While the letter meets some requirements of a first-communication letter, the contains this paragraph about Bashir’s right to validation of the debt:
“If you do not dispute the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, within 30 days of the receipt of this letter, we will assume it is valid. If you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, within 30 days of receipt of this letter we will obtain and mail you verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against you. At your request, in writing within 30 days of receipt of this letter, we will provide you with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor.”
This paragraph does inform Bashir of her right to dispute the debt, but it does not inform her that the dispute must be in writing. The recipient of a letter like this might believe she could guard her rights by telephoning the company, which is not true.
The FDCPA must be interpreted in terms of the least sophisticated consumer. For an unsophisticated consumer, this paragraph sows confusion and does not make clear the debtor’s rights. The complaint therefore claims that it is a violation of the FDCPA.