Hyperlinks Do Not Count as Debt Disclosures under FDCPA

Aug 14, 2019Federal Regulation, Litigation, News

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a debt collector violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) when it informed a consumer about her debt obligations via an email that did not “imply the existence of a debt.”

In 2015, Med-1, a debt collector, sent several emails to Beth Lavallee, the defendant, who owed medical debt. The emails contained only the company’s name, email address, and hyperlinks leading to the company’s server. From there, Lavallee had to click through several web pages and hyperlinks to open up a PDF document containing the disclosures required under FDCPA. 

The court ruled that Med-1’s email did not meet the definition of “communication” because “the emails say nothing at all about a debt,” said the Seventh Circuit. “A debt collector’s message must at least imply the existence of a debt to meet the act’s definition of ‘communication.”

When the defendant compared their email notice to a letter being sent but never read by the consumer, the presiding judges pushed back. “The proper analogue is a letter that provides nothing more than the address of a location where the message can be obtained. That hypothetical letter, like the emails here, doesn’t ‘contain’ the relevant information.”

One interesting question raised by insideARM is how this court ruling will impact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposed rule on debt collection, which “would permit a debt collector to deliver required disclosures by hyperlink if, among other things, the debt collector or a creditor first provided the consumer with notice and an opportunity to opt out.” As insideARM points out, it may be challenging to fit the required disclosures in the body of a text message. 

Either way, the CFPB has extended its open comment period for the proposed rule by an additional 30 days. The deadline is now September 18. Those interested can submit comments here

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