Identify Theft From a Barcode? You’d Better Read On…

We’ve all seen what looks like junk mail in our mailbox.  It looks like a generic mailing, with an external barcode.  But what’s in that barcode?  Well, your personal account information just might be right there on the front of your mail, for anyone to see.

Most often the mail will such offending barcodes will be from a debt collector.  The issue was addressed last year when the Third Circuit ruled in Douglas v. Convergent Outsourcing that finding a debtor’s account number on the outside of an envelope is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).    In Douglas, the Plaintiff received a letter from a debt collector.  Visible on the face of the envelope was the Plaintiff’s name and address, following a sequence of numbers reflecting the Plaintiff’s account number.  This number was not from the company which the debt was owed, but from the company which was collecting the debt. Notably the Plaintiff’s name, address, and account number were printed on the letter and visible through the transparent window of the envelope.

Section 1692f(8) of the FDCPA limits the language and symbols that debt collector may place on envelopes it sends to consumers.  According to the language of 1692f(8), a debt collector may only display its address on an envelope to a debtor. The Court in Douglas found that anything on the face of an envelope, even if printed on the letter and seen through the transparent window of an envelope, is still part of the envelope in accordance with 1692f(8).    Further the Court found that displaying a consumer’s account number on the face of the envelope is in violation of the FDCPA.

Following this ruling, a Pennsylvania federal judge ruled that embedding a debtor’s account number in a bar code on the face of an envelope is also in violation of the FDCPA. All you need is a smartphones and an identity thief to scan the barcode, retrieve the imbedded and then misusing your personal information.  There are free smartphone apps which allow anyone to access your personal information.

The FDCPA was designed to protect the consumer, you, from aggressive and sloppy actions of debt collectors. If you have received mail from a debt collector displaying information other than the debt collector’s address on the face of the envelope, contact Bergmann & Good us to discuss the available options.

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