On December 5, the U.S. District Court of New Jersey dismissed an FDCPA suit brought against a debt collector. According to the opinion, plaintiff originally filed suit because they received a letter from defendant regarding an outstanding cell phone bill. The letter provided instructions on what to do if the recipient suspected identity theft. Additionally, the letter contained a summary of plaintiff’s account and a QR code that linked to defendant’s website for online payment. Plaintiff contended that the dual approach of offering assistance while simultaneously pursuing collection of a debt was false and misleading. A District Court judge, however, disagreed and dismissed the case, at which point the plaintiff filed an amended complaint.
The amended complaint alleges that the debt collector breached the FDCPA by using false, deceptive or misleading representations regarding the rights of the plaintiff and the obligations of the debt collector with respect to communications concerning identity theft. Specifically, plaintiff argued defendant was in violation of § 1681m(g) of the FDCPA, which obligates a debt collector to take certain steps upon being notified of identity theft, but the court disagreed, finding that the collector’s specific steps taken were in accordance with the Act.
The court emphasized that plaintiff did not introduce any new factual claims in the amended complaint, and merely clarified how the facts already outlined in the initial complaint breached the FDCPA. The judge ruled that the letter not only allows plaintiff to inform defendant about potential identity theft, but also may serve to bring potential identity theft to plaintiff’s attention. The ruling stated that there is no obligation to extensively explain recommended procedures in the case of an identity theft occurrence, and only an “idiosyncratic reading” of the letter would lead to the conclusion that the letter misrepresents defendant’s obligations.