Many collection agencies send initial notices that include the statement, "unless you notify this office in writing within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid." (emphasis added).  If your agency is sending such letters, you should consider changing the company's initial notice.


Recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit joined the growing number of courts holding that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does not impose a writing requirement on a consumer's ability to dispute the validity of a debt, and telling a consumer that such disputes must be in writing violates the Act.  Clark v. Absolute Collection Serv., Inc., 2014 WL 341943 (4th Cir. Jan. 31, 2014).  In concluding the Act does not require disputes to be in writing, the Fourth Circuit focused on the "plain language" of § 1692g(a)(3) of the Act, which does not expressly require the consumer dispute the validity of the debt "in writing." 


The Fourth Circuit's ruling is in accord with rulings from the Second and Ninth Circuits.  The Third Circuit is the only appellate court to rule otherwise, but few lower courts have agreed with the 1991 ruling.


Notably, § 1692g(a)(3) should not be confused with § 1692g(a)(4), which requires the debt collector to notify the consumer in the initial notice that to obtain verification of the debt, a request has to be made in writing.


We have assisted collection agencies in revising their initial notices.  We may be able to help you. 

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