UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
November 13, 1996
Mr. Donald B. Kramer, Esq.
Dear Mr. Kramer:
This is in response to your letter of October 10, 1996, concerning whether the words "attorney at law" on a law firm's stationery or the words "collection agency" on a collection agency's stationery fulfill the requirements of the recent amendment to Section 807(11) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. 1692e(11)), if the content of the message in the letter at issue relates to a debt. Section 807(11) requires debt collectors to disclose in all communications to a consumer, subsequent to the initial written and oral communications, that they are from a debt collector.(1) You ask for a formal advisory opinion from the Commission concerning this matter.
Without addressing, for the time being, whether your request satisfies Part I, Subpart A of the Commission's Rules of Practice concerning advisory opinions, we are providing you with the opinion of Commission staff on the issues you raise. Of course, you are aware that such an opinion is not binding upon the Commission or a court, but it contains what we will recommend to the Commission if we ultimately handle this request as a request for a formal advisory opinion from the Commission itself.
Like the courts have done with other provisions of the Act, we read amended Section 807(11) for its plain meaning, i.e., that subsequent communications must disclose [clearly] that they are from a debt collector. We believe that the words "collection agency' on a collection agency's stationery would comply with the amended Section 807(11). However, we do not believe that the words "attorney at law" on a law firm's stationery would comply; these words disclose only that the communication is from a lawyer, working for a law firm. The consumer would have to draw an inference that, since the text of the message discusses a debt, the attorney must also be a debt collector. We do not believe that the amendment to the FDCPA requires that consumers make such an inference in order to understand what information is being disclosed or permits a disclosure that would require such an inference in order for the information at issue to be effectively conveyed. The disclosure must be clear and unambiguous on its face.
In light of our informal staff opinion in this matter, please let me know if you still wish to pursue your request for a formal Commission advisory opinion. If you do, you must comply with Section 1.2 et. seq. of the Commission's Rules of Practice (enclosed) and submit your petition to the Secretary of the Commission, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580. You should be aware that it would undoubtedly take a number of months for an advisory opinion to be issued,. if the Commission were to grant your request for advice.
John F. LeFevre
1. In the initial communication with the consumer, the debt collector must disclose that it is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose.