See-Through Envelope Window Revealing Account Number Leads to Lawsuit

Friday, October 17, 2014
(graphic: Steve Straehley, AllGov)

An appeals court ruled that a debtor’s privacy was invaded when a collection agency made an account number visible through a window in an envelope.


In 2011, Convergent Outsourcing, collecting a debt allegedly owed to T-Mobile by Courtney Douglass, sent Douglass a collection letter. Such letters are regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The act states that the outside of the envelope can contain only the address of the collector, and other rulings have held that “benign language” such as “Personal and Confidential” may also appear. However, Convergent used an envelope with a glassine window which revealed Douglass’ account number and a Quick Read (QR) symbol that could be read by a smartphone and show how much money Douglass allegedly owed, according to Courthouse News Service.


Douglass sued, claiming the disclosure violated the FDCPA. U.S. District Judge Joel Slomsky threw out the case, ruling that the visible information constituted “benign language.” However, the U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated the suit, ruling (pdf), “The account number is a core piece of information pertaining to Douglass’s status as a debtor and Convergent’s debt collection effort. Disclosed to the public, it could be used to expose her financial predicament. Because Convergent’s disclosure implicates core privacy concerns, it cannot be deemed benign.”

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Collection Agency Letter Found to Say Too Much (by Lorraine Bailey, Courthouse News Service)

FDCPA Limits on the Envelope Containing a Collection Letter (Protecting Consumer Rights Blog)

Courtney Douglass vs. Convergent Outsourcing (pdf)


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