Permissible Voicemails Under the FDCPA

March 13, 2015 in FDCPA by William Abbey

The content of a voicemail message that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) permits to be included on a consumer’s voicemail has long been a source of debate. As Congress, the FTC, and the CFPB have failed to give significant guidance on how the FDCPA should apply to voicemail messages, it has been left to the courts to parse the seemingly conflicting statutory requirements.

In Pollock v. GC Services Limited Partnership- Delaware, the trial court found on a motion for summary judgment that, under the FDCPA, a voicemail leaving only a name, intended recipient, and callback number did not constitute a communication and that a single voicemail without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity could not constitute harassment. (13-13652, E.D. MI 2014).

In Pollock, the defendant GC Services attempted to collect a debt on behalf of its client, QVC, from Lisa Pollock. GC Services called Pollock and left a message on her voicemail stating “Good morning, this message is intended for Lisa Pollock. My name is Carlos Sierra and I would appreciate you calling me back at 1-866-862-2789. Once again, that number is 1-866-862-2789. Thank you.” Pollock returned the call and spoke with a different representative of GC Services who attempted to collect the debt. Pollock then filed a lawsuit against GC Services alleging that it violated the FDCPA for failing to disclose in the message that it was a debt collector and for placing a call without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity.

Pollock’s first argument that GC Services violated the FDCPA for failing to identify itself as a debt collector is based on 15 USC 1692e(11). The section requires that a notice be given to the consumer that the debt collector is “attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose” during the “initial communication with the consumer.”  A “communication” is defined as “the conveying of information regarding a debt directly or indirectly to any person through any medium.” 15 USC 1692a(2). The court found that as a matter of law, a voicemail that contained only the name, intended recipient, and callback number does not fall within the definition of a communication and therefore the notice in 1692e(11) is not required to be included in such voicemail messages.

Pollock’s second argument was that GC Services violated the FDCPA for making a telephone call without meaningful disclosure of the caller’s identity as required by 15 USC 1692b(1). Pollock alleges that meaningful disclosure requires both the name and employer of the caller and GC Services included only the name in its message. The court noted however that the language of the statute indicates that debt collectors are precluded from making “telephone calls without meaningful disclosure” and the plural use of calls indicates that a single telephone call without disclosure does not constitute a violation. As only a single message was left with Pollock, the court did not address whether the message would have violated the section if it had been left more than once.

The court’s summary judgment ruling shows the need for debt collectors to closely manage the wording of any voicemail messages left for consumers. While the courts have reached varying interpretations of the FDCPA with respect to voicemail messages, this court has indicated that, at a minimum, a single voicemail message to a consumer containing only the caller’s name, intended recipient, and callback number is permissible under the Act.