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Does communication (letter) regarding a Credit Dispute count as an initial communication?


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My girlfriend has this ridiculous BS debt on her credit report from Pinnacle Credit Services for $73.  They claim it is from an unpaid Verizon Wireless bill which is untrue.  We closed her Verizon account when we switched over to AT&T and paid the final bill online back in 2010, showing a balance of $0.  Out of the blue, it pops up on her Credit Report in March 2014, 4 years later.   We immediately called Pinnacle from the phone number provided on her credit report.  They stated they have no information, and transferred us to another company that is supposedly servicing the account.  After waiting on a long hold, they could not provide us with any information and we informed them this had been paid back in 2010.   We called them 3 additional times trying to get some resolution, and were met with nothing but rude representatives and stonewalled.  They never called us, and they never sent any letters or provided any verification/validation despite our verbal request.  We could not even get an address to send a letter in to. They also never updated their reporting to show it as disputed despite the fact we called them and verbally disputed it on multiple occasions.  Three months later in June we disputed it directly with the Credit Reporting Agencies stating that it has already been paid and the account was closed with a balance of $0. 

 

In response to this Credit dispute, we received a letter from Crosstown Law, LLC stating they are the Attorney's for Pinnacle and they are handling this Credit Dispute.  They inform us in the letter that according to their records this debt is verified, and they will respond to the dispute that it is verified unless, within 5 days of receipt of the letter, we provide proof to them that this debt has already been paid.  Even though the letter is in response to the Credit Dispute, since it is our first communication from Pinnacle (all previous communication was us calling them) shouldn't it have included our 30 day right to request verification/validation?  It says right on the bottom of the letter the standard, this is from a debt collector and is an attempt to collect a debt etc. 

 

Also, isn't it their responsibility to verify the accuracy of their reporting?  Why should we have to dig up old bank records to prove it's been paid?  Isn't that their job?  Secondly, how can we even provide proof of the debt being paid if they have refused to provide us with any paperwork indicating what the bill even is?  More likely then not it was a billing error on the part of Verizon which is relatively common.  I just had the same problem with Comcast.  I closed my account with Comcast, and immediately upon closing my account I could no longer log in to online billing.  Having paid the final bill I didn't think anything of it then 3 weeks later I get a call from my parents saying Comcast sent a bill for me to them which was weird because that wasn't the billing address, nor the address of the house being serviced.   My dad opens it and and tells me that it's a bill for $212 for unreturned equipment.  That's strange, considering I returned all equipment so I call Comcast and after a long hold they inform me it was an error and fixed it.  They then tell me I actually had an account credit and they were mailing me a check for $18.  But, if my parents had never informed me of the bill, I easily could've ended up with an erroneous bill that would later end up on my Credit Report and in the hands of a company like Pinnacle like my girlfriends Verizon "bill".   This stuff is so annoying.  We'll call the Pinnacle Attorney but this whole thing is ridiculous over an erroneous $73 debt they are reporting, yet likely have no way of investigating our complaint it's been paid since they probably don't have any records from Verizon. 

 

Long story short, is the letter an FDCPA violation since it doesn't contain the 30 day notice that we can use as leverage to make this go away quick and easily?

 

 

 

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@graym

 

The courts that have ruled on the issue have ruled that the communication must be initiated by the debt collector.  Reporting to CRAs is not considered an initial communication.  The letter they sent to your girlfriend was in response to her dispute.

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Pinnacle does not sue.  They poison credit reports with piddly amounts to induce a fast PFD.

 

The Florida Office of Financial Regulation has an online complaint form you can use to file a complaint against this lawyer and PInnacle for this.  They handle disputes quickly and easily.

 

I would also file a complaint with the CFPB at the same time.

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Pinnacle needs to hear from CFPB? before submitting to CFPB your complaint, print a copy of your letter from CFPB and have it CMRR to Pinnacle and the lawyer. Take the account information exactly as is reported on the credit bureau along with a copy of the page of the CRA report where the tradeline is showing.

 

Send it out immediately.

CFPB should get you the deletion or settlement quick

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What annoys me more than anything else is that this is for $73.  SEVENTY-THREE DOLLARS.   Seriously.   If it comes back verified, which they already stated in the letter they were going to do, we could always request an investigation by the original Creditor.  It's just nuts to do all this for $73 on an account that was paid back in 2010.  The whole situation is just dumb.  So Verizon's billing makes an error and shows her as owing $73 as that's most likely what happened, even though it's erroneous and untrue.  It sits idle for nearly 4 years, then appears in the hands of Pinnacle who likely purchased a bulk number of accounts without any paperwork, billing history etc, and based on that purchase of the debt, and that alone, they will keep it verified to the Credit Reporting Agencies without anyway of actually verifying the debt.  Then, they send us a letter stating that it is OUR responsibility to provide them with proof that a bill from 4 years ago has been paid.  Nevermind the fact they have yet been unwilling to even produce the bill that supposedly was never paid, or what the charges are, or anything of the sort, but we're supposed to prove we paid it which, if the bill is erroneous, would then be impossible anyway. 

There's something seriously wrong with that scenario. 

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@graym

 

The courts that have ruled on the issue have ruled that the communication must be initiated by the debt collector.  Reporting to CRAs is not considered an initial communication.  The letter they sent to your girlfriend was in response to her dispute.

The letter is in response to the Credit Report dispute, but they are requesting documentation from us, documentation they would certainly use to aid in their collection efforts.  In fact, it clearly states that the letter is an attempt to collect a debt at the bottom.   If the letter is an attempt to collect a debt, doesn't that go beyond simply responding to a Credit Report dispute?  Secondly, there is nothing in the investigation process which requires them to reach out to us at all.  They chose to do that on their own. 

Is there caselaw on this matter stating that it's not considered a first communication?

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@graym

 

The phrase "initial communication with a consumer," followed by the requirements imposed on the debt collector for such an initial communication, suggests that the statute properly understood refers to and requires a communication that is initiated by the debt collector, not a communication initiated by the consumer. Blair v. Bank of America, Dist. Court, D. Oregon 2012.

The clear language of § 1692g(a), however, is that an initial communication is sent by the debt collector, not by the debtor. Campbell v. Credit Bureau Sys., Inc., 655 F.Supp.2d 732, 741-43 (E.D.Ky.2009).

However, "[c]ourts in this circuit have held that the `FDCPA's protections are not triggered by communications initiated by someone other than the debt collector.'" Derisme v. Hunt Leibert Jacobson P.C., 880 F.Supp.2d 311, 329, 2012 WL 3000386, at *18 (D.Conn. July 23, 2012) (quoting Boyd v. J.E. Robert Co., 2010 WL 5772892, at *13 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010)).

 

Therefore, even considering the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff as required at this juncture, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, because language of the statute, its purpose, and the manifest weight of the case law all indicate that consumer-initiated communications are not subject to this provision. Stuart v. UDREN LAW OFFICES PC, Dist. Court, MD Pennsylvania 2014.

 

 

Did they demand payment in the letter?

 

[A] communication made specifically to induce the debtor to settle her debt will be sufficient to trigger the protections" of the Act.  Gburek v. Litton Serv. LP, 614 F.3d 380 (7th Cir. 2010).

With respect to the first argument, it is well-established that not every communication between a debt collector and a consumer is subject to the FDCPA and that the FDCPA applies only to communications that are intended to collect a payment. See Grden v. Leikin Ingber & Winters PC, 643 F.3d 169, 173 (6th Cir.2011).

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@graym

 

The phrase "initial communication with a consumer," followed by the requirements imposed on the debt collector for such an initial communication, suggests that the statute properly understood refers to and requires a communication that is initiated by the debt collector, not a communication initiated by the consumer. Blair v. Bank of America, Dist. Court, D. Oregon 2012.

The clear language of § 1692g(a), however, is that an initial communication is sent by the debt collector, not by the debtor. Campbell v. Credit Bureau Sys., Inc., 655 F.Supp.2d 732, 741-43 (E.D.Ky.2009).

However, "[c]ourts in this circuit have held that the `FDCPA's protections are not triggered by communications initiated by someone other than the debt collector.'" Derisme v. Hunt Leibert Jacobson P.C., 880 F.Supp.2d 311, 329, 2012 WL 3000386, at *18 (D.Conn. July 23, 2012) (quoting Boyd v. J.E. Robert Co., 2010 WL 5772892, at *13 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2010)).

 

Therefore, even considering the facts in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff as required at this juncture, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim under 15 U.S.C. § 1692g, because language of the statute, its purpose, and the manifest weight of the case law all indicate that consumer-initiated communications are not subject to this provision. Stuart v. UDREN LAW OFFICES PC, Dist. Court, MD Pennsylvania 2014.

 

 

Did they demand payment in the letter?

 

[A] communication made specifically to induce the debtor to settle her debt will be sufficient to trigger the protections" of the Act.  Gburek v. Litton Serv. LP, 614 F.3d 380 (7th Cir. 2010).

With respect to the first argument, it is well-established that not every communication between a debt collector and a consumer is subject to the FDCPA and that the FDCPA applies only to communications that are intended to collect a payment. See Grden v. Leikin Ingber & Winters PC, 643 F.3d 169, 173 (6th Cir.2011).

 

 

None of those cases specifically deal with Credit Report disputes so I'm not sure how applicable any of them are.  Those cases all involve people who directly contacted the Debt Collector by phone or letter and received responses to their requests.   In all cases you listed every communication was sent directly to the Debt Collector.  Here, however, the dispute was initiated with a third party (the Credit Agency) and in response to that dispute, they reached out to us by letter.   Considering a Credit Dispute does not require the Debt Collector to reach out to the consumer and they did it of their own accord, my personal opinion is that the cases you listed are not applicable here. 

 

In response to the 2nd portion of your post the letter itself states in the first paragraph that the letter is only in regards to the dispute.  However, in direct contradiction to that statement, the bottom of the letter specifically states:

"This is a communication from a debt collector.  This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information will be used for that purpose."

 

They might be asking for information in regards to the Credit Dispute, but that sentence implies they will use the information for debt collection as well.  If this was not an attempt to collect a debt and was solely in regards to the Credit Dispute, why would they put that statement on there? 

 

While the above is arguable, and not guaranteed, I would state that I believe having researched some case law on the matter that there is definitely an FDCPA violation in the fact that we disputed the debt back in March directly with the Debt Collector and in June it was still being reported as undisputed.  That is an FDCPA violation.   However, as the phone call wasn't recorded they would almost certainly deny that it happened so it wouldn't make for much of a case.   Although, I do have detailed notes of the conversations.   Also, the conversations were with Retrieval Masters and not Pinnacle.  Pinnacle outsources their collection to local firms, in our case it's a firm based out of Tampa called Retrieval Masters.  Calling Pinnacle gets us no where because they simply refer us to Retrieval Masters.  Pinnacle is unwilling to even discuss the matter with us.  Yet, it's Pinnacle that is reporting the debt to the Credit Reporting Agencies.   All phone calls stating we were disputing it and that it has been paid were with Retrieval Masters, not with Pinnacle.  I'm not sure how it would all fit together, or if Pinnacle would ever learn of the dispute from Retrieval Masters to update their reporting.  It's a giant spider's nest.  The goal here isn't litigation though, we're just trying to get a bogus debt off her Credit Report with the least amount of work possible.  It's stupid that people have to go through this.

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@graym

 

Did they demand payment in the letter?

 

No, outside of the fact the bottom of the letter states the standard this is a communication from a debt collector, attempt to collect a debt etc, the wording of the letter only deals with the Credit Dispute but it does request information from us and states that they will verify the debt to the Credit Reporting Agencies if we don't provide it.  They requested receipts and bank records.  Items they would most certainly use against us if given the opportunity.  There's no guarantee any documentation provided to them in regards to a Credit Report Dispute would not be used for debt collection purposes, hence, why I happen to disagree with you on this issue.  Otherwise you're providing them with free reign to coerce documentation under the umbrella of a Credit Report dispute that they could later introduce as evidence in a lawsuit.   I don't think that would happen here since the amount is only $73, but my point is that it could.   The fact is, they are not required to contact us to resolve a Credit Report dispute so I do not believe that the communication can be hidden under the umbrella of a response.   If we had contacted them directly, then yes, but we didn't in this case hence why I do not believe the cases you cited would be applicable here. 

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@graym

 

The cases I cited from the 6th and 7th Circuits would apply to this situation.  They said that for a communication to trigger the requirement of the validation notice, it must try to to collect payment.   The fact that the letter included the "this is an attempt to collect a debt" language, would support you, but since they didn't request payment, it would be up for grabs.

 

You also have to consider that they may claim that a collection letter that contained the 30-day notice was already sent.  Courts have ruled that a debt collector doesn't have to prove that you received the letter.

 

In regard to their failure to report the debt as disputed, since the entry has not been updated, Pinnacle may not have to update just to show that it's disputed. 

 

Carey v. PINNACLE CREDIT SERVICES, LLC, Dist. Court, MD Florida 2014 confirms that a CA must report a debt as disputed.  BUT, it's not clear if the CA in that case (Pinnacle) had continued updating after learning of the dispute.

 

I believe that the 8th Circuit is the only circuit court of appeals that has dealt with the issue of continued updating after learning of a dispute.

 

When a debt collector learns of a dispute after reporting the debt to a credit bureau, the dispute need not also be reported. Wilhelm v. Credico, Inc., 519 F.3d 416, 418 (8th Cir.2008)..

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@graym

 

The cases I cited from the 6th and 7th Circuits would apply to this situation.  They said that for a communication to trigger the requirement of the validation notice, it must try to to collect payment.   The fact that the letter included the "this is an attempt to collect a debt" language, would support you, but since they didn't request payment, it would be up for grabs.

 

You also have to consider that they may claim that a collection letter that contained the 30-day notice was already sent.  Courts have ruled that a debt collector doesn't have to prove that you received the letter.

 

In regard to their failure to report the debt as disputed, since the entry has not been updated, Pinnacle may not have to update just to show that it's disputed. 

 

Carey v. PINNACLE CREDIT SERVICES, LLC, Dist. Court, MD Florida 2014 confirms that a CA must report a debt as disputed.  BUT, it's not clear if the CA in that case (Pinnacle) had continued updating after learning of the dispute.

 

I believe that the 8th Circuit is the only circuit court of appeals that has dealt with the issue of continued updating after learning of a dispute.

 

When a debt collector learns of a dispute after reporting the debt to a credit bureau, the dispute need not also be reported. Wilhelm v. Credico, Inc., 519 F.3d 416, 418 (8th Cir.2008)..

 

And this folks, is why we need better consumer protection laws in this country.  It's ridiculous how little they have to do and basically they can just lie their way out of sending 30 day notices as well.

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What annoys me more than anything else is that this is for $73.  SEVENTY-THREE DOLLARS.   Seriously.  

 

I told you:  Pinnacle is what is known as a "poisoner" on debts.  They simply report an amount so small that most consumers find it too bothersome to fight them and simply do a PFD to get rid of it.  Larger amounts they would face resistance and have to prove the debt.  These small amounts are designed specifically to poison a credit report and force a quick payment to get rid of it.

 

As I said before a simple online complaint to the FL OFR and CFPB should resolve this very quickly.  There is no need to wait for a copy of the response from the CFPB to mail a separate letter to Pinnacle.  Waste of time.  Simply open the disputes with the two agencies and let them do what they do best. 

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@graym

 

The fact is, they are not required to contact us to resolve a Credit Report dispute so I do not believe that the communication can be hidden under the umbrella of a response.

 

 

They contacted you because your dispute with the CRAs was on the basis that the debt had been paid.  They obviously don't have that information and need if from you.

 

I'd speak to a consumer attorney.  I'm not saying that the letter definitely should not have contained the 30-day notice, but I do believe it's iffy.  On one hand, they didn't demand payment and contacted you because of the reason for your dispute.  On the other, they included that the letter was an attempt to collect a debt.   I don't think you have a slam dunk violation.  If I were going to sue, I wouldn't want "iffy". 

 

This occurred to me.  If you don't have the proof that the debt was paid, you don't have it.  When you dispute with the CRAs, the furnisher is supposed to verify information.  In this case, they're trying to verify it.  If you can't provide the proof, more than likely, they will verify it with the CRAs. 

 

I'd dispute with the CRAs again.  This time my dispute would be based upon information they should already have.  Dispute the balance.  Considering Pinnacle transferred to a servicer who says they have no information, how are they going to verify it?  If they verify it, file a complaint with the CFPB, and include the fact that you were told they had no information about the account.

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I told you:  Pinnacle is what is known as a "poisoner" on debts.  They simply report an amount so small that most consumers find it too bothersome to fight them and simply do a PFD to get rid of it.  Larger amounts they would face resistance and have to prove the debt.  These small amounts are designed specifically to poison a credit report and force a quick payment to get rid of it.

 

As I said before a simple online complaint to the FL OFR and CFPB should resolve this very quickly.  There is no need to wait for a copy of the response from the CFPB to mail a separate letter to Pinnacle.  Waste of time.  Simply open the disputes with the two agencies and let them do what they do best. 

 

We're going to do this on Monday.  Hopefully you are right :)

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@graym

 

 

They contacted you because your dispute with the CRAs was on the basis that the debt had been paid.  They obviously don't have that information and need if from you.

 

I'd speak to a consumer attorney.  I'm not saying that the letter definitely should not have contained the 30-day notice, but I do believe it's iffy.  On one hand, they didn't demand payment and contacted you because of the reason for your dispute.  On the other, they included that the letter was an attempt to collect a debt.   I don't think you have a slam dunk violation.  If I were going to sue, I wouldn't want "iffy". 

 

This occurred to me.  If you don't have the proof that the debt was paid, you don't have it.  When you dispute with the CRAs, the furnisher is supposed to verify information.  In this case, they're trying to verify it.  If you can't provide the proof, more than likely, they will verify it with the CRAs. 

 

I'd dispute with the CRAs again.  This time my dispute would be based upon information they should already have.  Dispute the balance.  Considering Pinnacle transferred to a servicer who says they have no information, how are they going to verify it?  If they verify it, file a complaint with the CFPB, and include the fact that you were told they had no information about the account.

 

Our goal is not to sue, it's to try to get it off the Credit Report with the least amount of effort.  The only way we would sue is if this turns into a knock-down drag it out fight to get it removed.  Additionally, Florida has an assignment of debt law which requires them to provide written notice 30 days prior to collecting.  We never received anything from them and yet this debt is being reported to all 3 CRA's.  Can also state that reporting is a collection activity and they were required to provide written notice of assignment 30 days prior to reporting.  While none of these might be "strong" easily winnable violations, they are legitimate violations that could either way.  Again though, it's not about suing, it's simply about creating leverage to get this removed easily. 

 

As far as the debt being paid thing, we specifically stated in our dispute that the final bill was paid and this account was closed with a balance of $0.  Their letter states that their bill has not been paid and want proof of payment.  That's not what we said though because their stance assumes that their bill is a legitimate charge.  We are not in agreement on that aspect.  Verizon very easily could've added erroneous charges after the account had been closed.  It still would not be a valid debt, but we would be unable to provide proof of payment if the charges were not legitimate and were added after the account had been closed.  As stated, we paid the Final Bill and closed the account with a balance of $0 but that doesn't mean that their debt is the Final bill which we paid. 

 

What we need is a copy of the past few bills, the date the account was closed, and the account usage at the end to make sure everything matches up to ensure they didn't just simply close the account a month later.   Then we can go to her bank and request records from 2010, and match up her payment history with the bills.  I'd assume her bank would still have 2010 records even though that card has been closed, if not well we are screwed there which is why this is ridiculous that it is first being reported to her Credit Report 4 years later.   That would be the ideal way to handle this, the problem is that Pinnacle is likely not going to have any of the required information to verify this.  They probably won't even have a copy of the final bill.  They'll likely send us some basic computer printout that doesn't verify anything.  Without the dates / charges / usage, it's not fair to request for us to prove it's been paid, if we aren't being provided with the relevant information / dates surrounding the charges.  As I said, what if we paid the final bill, but Verizon sent 1 more bill after the account was closed.  We'd be unable to prove payment because it wasn't a valid bill. 

 

Complaints to the various agencies that Clydesmom listed above, as well as requesting an investigation from Verizon would, in my opinion, be the best way to get this removed.  Once they send this back to the CRA's as verified, we can request an investigation from Verizon and I also believe we are entitled to the results of that investigation.  That would just cost us $5 in mailing fees to send the investigation request CMRRR to Verizon, and, would give us far stronger options for a lawsuit if needed.  If we have a solid FCRA claim in which we can bring suit, then we could add in the FDCPA claims as well if it gets that far.

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Your goal may not be to sue. But if they are providing false information to the CRAs, and you can collect some money for their various and sundry violations of law, it's worth considering.

 

Most NACA attorneys will offer a consultation, to see if you have a case. And, if you don't, or they believe that you don't, they'll tell you, too. Many of them take FDCPA and other suits against collectors on contingency, so they have no stake in telling you you ought to sue if the case is flimsy.

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@graym

 

 Additionally, Florida has an assignment of debt law which requires them to provide written notice 30 days prior to collecting.  We never received anything from them and yet this debt is being reported to all 3 CRA's.  Can also state that reporting is a collection activity and they were required to provide written notice of assignment 30 days prior to reporting.  

 


You would have to connect the FL law to credit reporting.  Does FL law consider reporting to CRAs to be a collection activity that would be prohibited until the 30 day notice of assignment was provided?

 

 While none of these might be "strong" easily winnable violations, they are legitimate violations that could either way.  Again though, it's not about suing, it's simply about creating leverage to get this removed easily.

 


Unless you can connect the FL law to credit reports, you don't know that they are legitimate violations.

 

 


 Their letter states that their bill has been paid and want proof of payment.

 


I'm confused.  How can their letter state that the debt has been paid, but they want proof of payment?
 

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