Ever since the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
was put into play back in 1978, both debtors and collectors have changed the way they deal with the collection industry. Categories were put into place, restrictions met, and notification practices were clearly lined out for future users’ protection. However, while the FDCPA provided strict groundwork, like anything else, there’s bound to be time where standard rules just don’t apply. Whenever black and white instances stand firm, these exceptions still seem to find themselves in the gray.
This was certainly the case of one recent FDCPA lawsuit, where a Texas woman claimed to have gotten improper notification from a debt collection
company. The woman, Brenda Garza, took her claims company, MRS, to court after feeling they had allegedly violated terms of the law, both the FDCPA and the Texas Debt Collections Act. In Garza’s suit, she said that while money was owed, the debt collection agency failed to properly identify themselves when contacting her via telephone.
In many cases, a lack of notification is cause for concern, especially when large funds are involved. In Garza’s case, however, the judge found her claims to be a little far-fetched. The reasoning? Garza’s evidence was a blank voicemail. Consisting of tens of seconds of silence, she stated the company failed to follow proper telephone procedures. Instead Garza was met with white noise, and buzzing silence.
In contrast, the debt collection agency said the message – or lack thereof – did not involve an exchange of words, and shouldn’t be counted as communicating.
After listening to her case, U.S. District Judge Gray H. Miller dismissed the suit reasoning that a blank voicemail should be considered no differently than a missed phone call or deliberate disconnection (hang up), where parties fail to speak with one another. Both of which have been proven legally sound within the FDCPA rules
Garza probably knew it was the collection agency calling from her caller ID. However, it is likely, although unconfirmed by MRS, that the empty message was merely an accident, not a ploy to harass her by lack of disclosure.
Luckily, there are law firms specializing in the FDCPA to help decipher who (if anyone) is at fault in these types of scenarios -- where instances are more gray than black or white.