UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
December 13, 1993
Mr. Gary L. Goff
Dear Mr. Goff:
This is in reply to your letter of November 28, 1993 concerning whether a collection agency violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (copy enclosed) when it attempts to collect a debt owed a utility (such as an electric company), not from the primary obligor, but from a third party who lived with the primary obligor during the time the utility services were provided.
The FDCPA regulates the practices of "debt collectors," as defined, when they attempt to collect debts from "consumers":
Clearly, the creditor (in this case, the utility company) has alleged that the third party living with the primary obligor is obligated to pay, if the primary obligor does not. Whether the third party, in fact, owes the utility debt is a matter of state law; if the creditor believes he does and communicates this belief to the debt collector, then the debt collector may continue to attempt to collect the debt, subject to any dispute or cease communication notices that the third party submits to the collector. If the creditor believes the debt is valid, the Act does not require the debt collector to "go behind" a creditor to determine whether the creditor's belief is, in fact, correct. On the other hand, the third party has the same dispute and cease communication rights under the Act as any other alleged debtor.
I hope this has been helpful.
John F. LeFevre