Although the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is broadly applied, visible account numbers through envelope windows do not violate the law, holds two federal judges. The twin rulings appeared as stories front and center of today's New York Law Journal.
Refusing to follow a third-circuit appeals decision, two New York federal judges (Hon. Colleen McMahon and Hon. John Curtin) agreed that the FDCPA seeks to prohibit wording on envelopes that identifies addressees as debtors causing "embarrassment or worse."
Account numbers visible through envelope windows are deemed "indecipherable to members of the public," held the judges. The numbers alone do not "intimate that the contents of the envelope relate to the collection of a delinquent debt, and the visibility of these numbers and letters is neither threatening or embarrassing."
The courts are increasingly tolerant to "benign" words or notations on envelopes even though the statute expressly prohibits "any language or symbol, other than the debt collector's address...."
Debt collectors may now breathe a sigh of relief to know (at least in the Second Circuit) that this "incredibly common" practice has been found not to violate the FDCPA.
Although the consumers' claims in these cases are a little too technical for my taste, legal boundaries are set—and laws are made—when lawyers aren't afraid to push the "envelope."