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By: William H. Buechner, Jr.
The Eleventh Circuit has ruled that a voicemail message left by a debt collector constitutes a “communication” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. However, the Eleventh Circuit also ruled that a debt collector is not required to disclose the identity of the individual leaving the voicemail message.
In Hart v. Credit Control, LLC, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 18375 (11th Cir. 9/22/17), the debt collector left the following voicemail message:
This is Credit Control calling with a message. This call is from a debt collector. Please call us at 866-784-1160. Thank you.
The Eleventh Circuit held, as an issue of first impression, that this voicemail message constituted a “communication” under the FDCPA because the FDCPA broadly defines a “communication” as “the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(2). The Court explained that the voicemail, although short, satisfied this broad definition because it was regarding the plaintiff’s debt. The Court then held that, because the voicemail message was the debt collector’s initial communication with the plaintiff, the debt collector was required to provide what is known as the “mini Miranda” warning — that the debt collector is “attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(11).
However, the Eleventh Circuit held (also as an issue of first impression) that the debt collector did not violate the FDCPA by failing to disclose the name of the individual leaving the voicemail message. Although the FDCPA prohibits “the placement of telephone calls without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity,” 15 U.S.C. § 1692d(6), the Eleventh Circuit held that the debt collector did not violate this provision because the voicemail message disclosed the name of the debt collection company and the nature of its business. The Court concluded that identifying the individual leaving the message was unimportant because identifying the name of the debt collection company and the nature of its business is sufficient to enable the consumer to vindicate his or her rights under the FDCPA.
In light of the Eleventh Circuit’s ruling in Hart, debt collectors should be mindful that voicemail messages left with debtors likely will be considered a “communication” and thus subject to the disclosure requirements set forth in the FDCPA. Also, debt collectors should identify the name of their company and the nature of their business when leaving a voicemail message with a debtor.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact William H. Buechner at [email protected].