Validation and Verification Vignettes: More Results from an Empirical Study of Consumer Understanding of Debt Collection Validation Notices
Rutgers University Law Review
The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act obliges debt collectors to provide certain notices to consumers from whom they are attempting to collect debts. This Article is our second to report findings from the first academic study of consumer understanding of one of those notices, commonly called the validation notice. We showed consumers different versions of collection letters and then asked questions to measure their understanding of the notices.
This Article explores some issues not discussed in our first Article. For example, in this Article, we examine what consumers thought collectors would have to do in response to a request for validation. We found a gulf between what many of our respondents expect when requesting verification of a debt and what some courts say collectors must provide.
We also attempted to determine whether consumers found the validation notice salient. Most respondents did not find the notice salient enough to mention when asked an open-ended question about the contents of the two-page collection letter they saw.
Because some collectors sell disputed debts to other collectors after consumers dispute a debt, we also wondered whether consumers would repeatedly dispute debts. We found that significantly fewer respondents said they would dispute a debt with a second collector when they had already disputed it once, though most said they would dispute the debt a second time. That finding suggests that some consumers will surrender some rights simply because they grow tired of asserting them.
We also report here findings building upon our earlier Article, which raised serious questions about consumer understanding of a commonly-used form of validation notice. This Article reports that a fifth of the respondents who said they would write a letter if told they needed to do so to dispute a debt they did not owe failed to realize that the letter they saw said that the collector would have to verify the debt if they wrote twenty-five days after receipt of the collector’s demand for payment—even though the demand letter had been approved by the Seventh Circuit. On the positive side, we found that seeing a validation notice made a difference on some questions, though not on others. After discussing these and other findings, the Article offers some recommendations to lawmakers for addressing the problems revealed in our study.
Available at: http://www.rutgerslawreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/04_Sovern.pdf