In Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing (3d Cir., Aug. 28, 2014, 13-3588) 2014 WL 4235570, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that a debt collector’s disclosure of debtor’s account number on envelope violated the FDCPA. On May 16, 2011, Plaintiff Courtney Douglass received a debt collection letter from Convergent Outsourcing (“Convergent”) regarding the collection of a debt that Douglass allegedly owed T–Mobile USA. Visible on the face of the letter, above Douglass’s name and address, was the following sequence of numbers representing Douglass’s account number with Convergent: “R–xxxx–5459–R241.” This number does not refer or relate to her account with T–Mobile USA. Convergent mailed the letter in an envelope with a glassine window. When mailed, the top portion of the letter, including Douglass’s account number, was visible through the window. Also visible through the window was Douglass’s name and address, a United States Postal Service bar code, and a quick response (“QR”) code, which, when scanned by a device such as a smart phone, revealed the same information as that displayed through the glassine window, as well as a monetary amount corresponding to Douglass’s alleged debt. The Third Circuit found that § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA regulates language and symbols visible to anyone handling the mail:
As a threshold matter, we conclude that § 1692f(8)’s prohibition on language and symbols applies to markings that are visible through a transparent window of an envelope. Section 1692f(8) regulates language “on any envelope.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8) (emphasis added). In this case, the alleged violation involves language printed on the letter itself that appeared through the glassine window of the envelope. Interpreting § 1692f(8) in accordance with its plain meaning, we construe language “on any envelope” to mean language appearing on the face of an envelope. The statute’s context further confirms this construction. Section 1692f evinces Congress’s intent to screen from public view information pertinent to the debt collection. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(7) (prohibiting correspondence by post card); id. § 1692f(8) (permitting a debt collector’s business name to appear on an envelope only if “such name does not indicate that he is in the debt collection business”). Like language printed on the envelope itself, language appearing through a windowed envelope can be seen by anyone handling the mail. And Convergent makes no argument to the contrary. Accordingly, we hold § 1692f(8) applies to language visible through a transparent window of an envelope.
The Third Circuit concluded that because the account number was visible through the window, Convergent violated § 1692f(8).
The text of § 1692f(8) is unequivocal. “[A]ny language or symbol,” except the debt collector’s address and, in some cases, business name, may not be included “on any envelope.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8). The plain language of § 1692f(8) does not permit Convergent’s envelope to display an account number. Because the statute’s language is plain, our sole function is “to enforce it according to its terms,” so long as “the disposition required by that [text] is not absurd.” Alston v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., 585 F.3d 753, 759 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Lamie v. U.S. Tr., 540 U.S. 526, 534, 124 S.Ct. 1023, 157 L.Ed.2d 1024 (2004)). . . Convergent insists that Douglass’s account number is a meaningless string of numbers and letters, and its disclosure has not harmed and could not possibly harm Douglass. But the account number is not meaningless—it is a piece of information capable of identifying Douglass as a debtor. And its disclosure has the potential to cause harm to a consumer that the FDCPA was enacted to address. As we have stated before, the FDCPA “must be broadly construed in order to give full effect to [Congress’s remedial] purposes.” Caprio, 709 F.3d at 148. Construing § 1692f(8) in accord with the FDCPA’s purposes in § 1692(a), we find the statute not only proscribes potentially harassing and embarrassing language, but also protects consumers’ identifying information. Accordingly, Douglass’s account number is impermissible language or symbols under § 1692f(8).