Mr. Ronald M. Hollcraft
Dear Mr. Hollcraft:
Your letter addressed to Beverly Childs has been referred to me for a response. You inquire whether the reference to "attorney" in Section 805(a)(2) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("Act") applies to a person who has been "authorized through a power of attorney agreement" and whether a debt collector would be required to recognize that person as an attorney for purposes of Section 805(a)(2).(1) That section of the Act prohibits a debt collector from communicating with a consumer about the consumer's alleged debt if the collector knows that the consumer is represented by an attorney with regard to the debt and knows the attorney's name and address. If the attorney fails to respond to the collector's communications within a "reasonable period of time," the collector may then contact the consumer directly.
In our opinion, Section 805(a)(2) is clearly limited in its applicability to a consumer's bona fide attorney-at-law. Had Congress intended a different result, we must assume that it would have broadened the language of Section 805(a)(2) to include other persons who regularly mediate between consumers and debt collectors or creditors with regard to consumers' alleged debts, such as members of non-profit credit counseling services. However, it is our belief that Congress clearly chose to restrict this section to attorneys-at-law, for admittedly good reasons.
Debts that go unpaid often lead to legal suits. Although a consumer's lawyer can appear in court and actively represent the consumer regarding an alleged debt, a person with the limited authority of a power of attorney agreement cannot. This is an important distinction and one that we believe Congress recognized in drafting the language of Section 805(a)(2).
Section 805(a)(2) specifically permits a consumer to consent to a debt collector's communication with persons other than the consumer about the consumer's alleged debt. However, we find nothing in the Act or its legislative history that leads us to conclude that the word "attorney" in Section 805(a)(2) would include anyone but an attorney-at-law.
1. 15 U.S.C. 1692c(a)(2).