A case that solidifies the only information a collector must include in a notice.


The Background

In January 2016, plaintiff Rene Ortiz began to receive reports of a $68.00 debt on his credit report resulting from an unpaid balance to AT&T from Diversified Consultants, Inc. (DCI)

Ortiz opposed the debt and filed a lawsuit against DCI, claiming a discrepancy on the notice invalidated the debt. According to Ortiz, the account number on the report was different from the one he associated with his AT&T account.

As a result of the mismatch, Ortiz disputed the debt, claiming Diversified failed to validate it's legitimacy. DCI validated the amount of the debt with AT&T and proceeded with the lawsuit.

The Reaction

The court made the following statement upon reviewing the documents submitted:

"To be sure, the account number on the AT&T billing statement...did not match the account number listed on DCI’s June 8, 2016 letter, although it is far from clear whether the account number on the DCI letter referred to the AT&T account number or DCI’s own internal account number."

In other words, the account number could have been one assigned to Ortiz by Diversified, and not intended to be associated with AT&T.

Despite this discrepancy, the court used a previous case to rule that the account number stated on the notice was essentially irrelevant.

"...verification of a debt involves nothing more than the debt collector confirming in writing that the amount being demanded is what the creditor is claiming is owed," states the case Mahon.

So basically, DCI could have written a letter that only said, "You owe $68.00 from your unpaid AT&T bill."

Okay, this is a slight exaggeration.

But, it's useful to keep in mind that if you are hit with a lawsuit for the notice of the language you send, chances are you will come out winning. FDCPA language describes the "least sophisticated consumer" as a consumer who may not understand the most elementary rules of debt collection, so try to make a clear indication of the amount owed and from what account.

Keep in mind that software with which you can choose to leave automated or manual messages can help your communication remain clear. Clear language can be a great asset in avoiding a lawsuit.