The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, has dramatically changed the landscape of debt collection for both consumers and debt collectors. Prior to the enactment of the FDCPA, state common law governed informal debt collection, and abusive collection practices were pervasive. Debt collectors were incentivized to engage in abusive collection tactics and consumers had little recourse. As a result, the FDCPA was enacted in order to regulate consumer debt collection and to remedy abuse. The express purpose of the FDCPA is to “protect consumers against debt collection abuses” and to ensure that debt collectors who refrain from abuse are not competitively disadvantaged. Specifically, 15 U.S.C.§ 1692e prohibits the “false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.”
Recently, misleading debt collection practices have been the subject of significant litigation. In particular, the In re Murray litigation raised the issue of whether “versus language” in a debt collection letter violated the FDCPA. In assessing FDCPA claims, courts construe the statute liberally in favor of consumers, subjecting debt collectors to greater potential liability. Therefore, understanding the bounds of the FDCPA, and situations that lead to its violation, is crucial to preventing liability. Moreover, such an understanding is essential to redressing abuse. Thus, the central issue that must be addressed is: when are debt collection practices “false, deceptive, or misleading” in violation of the FDCPA and what are the requisite legal standards to assess such violations.
This article will explore the present question in three parts. Part I examines the legal standards that federal courts utilize to determine FDCPA violations. Part II addresses the permissibility of versus language in a debt collection letter under 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2)(A). Part III analyzes collection tactics that violate 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(13) and whether versus language in the debt collection letter triggers a violation.