Complaint Alleges Debt Collection Practice Violates Privacy Law

A string of 12 numbers visible on an envelope sent to collect a debt is a violation of federal privacy law, according to a proposed class action filed by a New Jersey plaintiff following a precedential ruling by the Third Circuit that held just that. Lakewood, N.J. plaintiff Yosaif Richter alleges in her complaint that the Pennsylvania law firm of Allan C. Smith, P.C., violated the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) by including her account number above her name and address on an Aug. 10 letter attempting to collect a $3,630.11 debt Richter allegedly owed to a third party. Richter contends that the visible account number serves to potentially identify her as a debtor, which would violate the FDCPA’s provision prohibiting a debt collector from using any language or symbol, other than the debt collector’s name and address, on an envelope to guard the financial privacy of the recipient, according to the complaint in Richter v. Smith , filed Nov. 18 in U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. The plaintiff identifies the potential class as consumers with accounts at HSBC Bank Nevada, N.A. and its affiliates in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania who received similar debt collection letters. The complaint requests damages and declaratory relief. The complaint cites the Aug. 28 ruling of a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Douglas v. Convergent Outsourcing . The court found an account number on such an envelope is not a “meaningless” string of numbers, but instead private information that Congress intended the statute to screen from public view.