Collector- June 2018 - 14
The Importance of the First 30 Days
Choose your words carefully when talking to consumers during the validation period.
By Anne Rosso May
he 30 days after a consumer has
received an initial communication
from your agency, known as the
validation period, is a delicate time.
Under the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act, after consumers get a first
notice-typically a letter-advising them
of their right to dispute the validity of
the debt, they have 30 days to do so.
And while you may ask a consumer to
pay within those first 30 days (assuming
the consumer hasn't disputed the debt),
you can't demand that the consumer
pay within a timeframe shorter than the
validation period in a way that conflicts
with the consumer's right to dispute.
This is known as overshadowing-when
debt collectors say or do something to make
consumers believe they don't have the full
30 days to dispute the debt. For instance,
telling consumers that payment should be
made "today" or that the debt is due "right
away" can be confusing, and may violate
the FDCPA because you've lead consumers
to believe that the rights as stated in your
initial letter aren't valid.
For that reason, offering payment plans
and discounts in this time period can be
tricky, and you'll want to pay close attention
to the language you use when describing
them to a consumer (if your agency allows
you to offer them at all).
To reduce the risk of overshadowing,
don't offer consumers a settlement during
the validation period that requires them
to pay within that first 30 days in order to
take advantage of a discount. If you do offer
to let the consumer resolve the debt at a
discounted rate, make sure the deadline for
that offer extends past the 30-day period-
and by more than just a few days. And once
an offer is made, don't withdraw it during
the validation period.
Even if your language doesn't literally
contradict the validation notice, creating
an undue sense of urgency could cause a
consumer to question her right to dispute the
debt within the validation period, which would
likely constitute overshadowing. Phrases like,
"We request quick payment" and "This is an
urgent matter," even if delivered in a friendly
tone, could trigger an overshadowing violation.
If at any point in the 30-day period the
consumer requests validation, stop all
collection activity until after your agency has
mailed sufficient verification of the debt.
Follow your agency's policies and
procedures on how to avoid overshadowing,
which likely provide specific language for
you to use, such as whether or not you
should reinforce to consumers that they have
30 days to validate the debt.
Some agencies may want
communications in the validation period to
be more informative than collection-driven,
telling consumers they should be receiving
a letter from your agency and simply
clarifying information you have on your
system. If so, keep that in mind as you're
making your calls.
Anne Rosso May is editor of Collector