Question: I recently sent a debt validation letter to a debt collection agency after I learned that they were supposed to send me one soon after our first contact.
A rep called today and claimed they mailed it 2 weeks ago but wanted to email me a letter. I told him I’d prefer it be sent certified mail like my letter to them was sent.
My question is, is an email just as good and is there supposed to be any documents from the original creditor along with their letter? It says they were assigned to it and just list my name and the amount I owe.
Answer: The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) does not specifically address the use of email as communication with consumers. There appears to be no legal reason why debt collectors cannot “electronically” communicate with consumers rather than using U.S. Mail because the FDCPA does not specify the form of communication by which a debt collector may communicate with its debtor.
But, a debt collector should, at the very least, obtain a consumers consent to communicate via email and take the proper steps to protect a consumer’s privacy when if utilizing email in order to communicate.
Should a debt collector get your express consent to be contacted via email, they must also take precautions to prevent unauthorized third party disclosure of the debt and follow the FDCPA rules for contacting you.
It is really up to you, if a debt collector obtained your express consent to be emailed then I suppose it is okay. But I just don’t like the thought of any debt collector emailing a consumer and here is why:
Privacy. Many consumers use workplace email addresses and they are in no way private. I am sure no consumer wants their boss or co-workers knowing their personal financial issues. Other consumers may share email addresses with family members which can also present a privacy issue.
Alteration. Some debt collectors engage in illegal tactics in order to collect debt. Junk debt buyers are not to be trusted no matter what they tell you. The content of an email can be easily altered or modified to say something you may not have agreed to. It is more difficult to alter or modify traditional paper letters.
Electronic Signature. While I advise consumers not to sign anything sent to a debt collector, utilizing email does not give you that option under the E-Sign Act. If certain requirements are met, federal law ensures the execution of electronic documents and signatures. The law says “a signature, contract, or other record relating to such transaction may not be denied legal effect, validity, or enforceability solely because it is in electronic form”. If your electronic signature is on an email it is enforceable. I just wouldn’t take a chance with email communication for that reason alone.
As far as debt validation, the FDCPA has no set rules as to what constitutes debt validation. But you have to think of it this way: “Would this piece of paper with my name and debt amount hold up in court as debt validation?” And the answer would be: “not likely.”
Without documentation from the original creditor how can you know the debt truly belongs to you. Remember, the burden of proof is on the debt collector, not you. Read “What Constitutes Proper Debt Validation” to get a better sense of where I’m coming from.
And be aware that debt collectors who file lawsuits against consumers usually win, by default, because consumers never answer the lawsuit. When consumers fight back and request proof an original creditor “assigned” the debt to the collector, the debt collector rarely, if ever, is able to provide proof they were “assigned” the debt.
Finally, stay off the telephone with debt collectors. Always be professional but let them know telephone calls and emails are inconvenient for you and advise them communication should be in writing only, via U.S. Postal Service. You can request debt validation again and make sure you put in the letter this is your 2nd request for debt validation as their response to your first request is not sufficient. At this point you want to create a paper trail in case you have to pursue a lawsuit.