Collection Notices Must Interpreted From The Point Of View Of The “Least Sophisticated Debtor”

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania has reinforced that collection notices must be interpreted from the point of view of the “least sophisticated debtor.”

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 (FDPCA), the initial written notice to the consumer regarding a debt owned must contain certain information. At issue in this case was 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a)(3), which states there must be “a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector.” (emphasis added).

The court in Galuska v. Collectors Training Institute of Illinois, Inc., found that the language used in the collection notice at issue (“Unless you notify this office within thirty (30) day after the receipt of this notice that you dispute the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, this debt will be assumed to be valid.”) was not in compliance with the requirements of the FDPCA.

It must be made clear to the consumer who would assume the debt to be valid. Use of the words “we” “our” “us” or “this office” were not specific enough to specify to the least sophisticated debtor who exactly would assume the debt to be valid.

The court found that the failure to include “by the debt collector” or its equivalent (i.e. the name of the company or individual, or other specifically identifying information) is sufficient to allege a claim for which relief may be granted.