Joe Dye Culik
FDCPA Act Prohibits Misrepresentation of Attorney’s Involvement in Collection Activity
The main legal protection consumers have against unlawful debt collection is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 (FDCPA). The purposes of the FDCPA is “to eliminate abusive debt collection practices by debt collectors.”
One of the abusive practices that is prohibited under the FDCPA is the lack of “meaningful involvement” by debt collection attorneys. This article explains this requirement.
Although the doctrine of meaningful involvement has been upheld by most courts, the language “meaningful involvement” is not used anywhere in the FDCPA. Rather, the doctrine comes from the general prohibition under the FDCPA that a debt collector not give the false impression that a communication is from an attorney.
The FDCPA prohibits misleading statements by debt collectors in 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(3):
A debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:
The false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.
What this means is that when a letter or other communication comes from a debt collection attorney, the attorney must be involved. Otherwise, the fact that the letter comes from, and is probably signed by, an attorney, misleads the consumer who reads it into thinking that the attorney is involved. This violates the prohibition on “false, deceptive, or misleading” communications.
Sometimes, high-volume debt collection attorneys try to reduce their workload by sending mass mailings. If they aren’t personally reviewing these letters, though, they may run afoul of the FDCPA prohibition on “meaningful involvement.” After all, if someone signs a letter without knowing who it’s to or what it’s about, this is likely to give the false impression that they were involved in sending it.
To avoid penalties under the FDCPA, attorneys sometimes to provide a disclaimer in their mass mailings stating that they were not meaningfully involved. This typically is not effective, although sometimes it might be. Each case is fact sensitive, so there is no easy way to tell whether or not the FDCPA was violated.
When a debt collector violates the FDCPA the penalty is up to $1,000 in statutory damages, actual damages, and legal fees and costs.
If you have been contacted by a debt collection attorney, it’s important to protect your rights. Contact us at 980-999-3557 to see if we can help.