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Court Limits Application of FDCPA Validation Provisions

FDCPA debt Massachusetts

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, debt collectors are required to provide verification (also sometimes called validation) of a debt being collected if a consumer sends a written dispute. A recent federal court case explains the potential limits of this doctrine.

In the case of Walton v. EOS CCA, the consumer sent a written dispute denying that the account being collected, an AT&T account being collected by a collector, EOS CCA, was hers. She also disputed that her Social Security Number was correct. In response, the debt collector sent her a letter showing the account balance and indicating that no interest or collection costs had been added.

She sued for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for EOS CCA’s failure to verify the debt, but the trial court dismissed the case. She then appealed to the appeals court.

The consumer had argued that EOS CCA’s obligation was not just to make sure the amount was accurate, but also to inquire whether the account was actually hers and whether she really owed the money to AT&T.

The court of appeals disagreed. The court used the dictionary definition of the term “verification,” which is “the authentication of truth or accuracy by such means as facts, statements, citations, measurements, or attendant circumstances.”

Explaining, the court said that it would be “burdensome and significantly beyond the [FDCPA’s] purpose to interpret [the FDCPA] as requiring a debt collector to undertake an investigation into whether the creditor is actually entitled to the money it seeks. [The FDCPA] serves as a check on the debt-collection agency, not the creditor.”

According to this ruling, the debt collector’s duty was only to ensure the amount was correct, not that the calculations behind the creditor’s assertion were true. The court of appeals dismissed the case.

This case shows the potential limits under the FDCPA. Court will not necessarily interpret it as a way to dispute any type of problem with an account being collected by a debt collector. Under this court’s interpretation — though other courts may disagree — the FDCPA deals with only surface issues, not with underlying claims about whether a debt is owed in the first place.

The case is available here: Walton v. EOS CCA

Culik Law is a Boston, Massachusetts law firm. Our attorneys represent consumers in Massachusetts related to violations of debt collection laws like the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as well as state debt collection laws like Chapter 93A. If a debt collector is pursuing you, contact us to see if we can help.

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