On September 3, Judge Edmond E. Chang of the Northern District of Illinois issued a decision stating that the display of a series of letters and numbers in which the debtor’s account number was allegedly embeddedthrough an envelope window does not violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.   

In Schmid v. Transworld Systems, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Transworld Systems violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8) by making visible through the window of its collection envelopes a string of about twenty letters and digits.  Plaintiff claimed his Transworld Systems account number was embedded within this string of letters and digits and, therefore, the display of this sequence of letters and digits violated the FDCPA. 

To advance his argument, the plaintiff relied on the Third Circuit’s decision in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, which held the display of an account number through the window of an envelope violates § 1692f(8) of the FDCPA.  The Douglass court held that an account number “is a core piece of information pertaining to one’s status as a debtor and the debt collection effort.” 

Judge Chang differentiated Doulgass from the facts presented in Schmid.  The Schmid court focused on the fact that a “non-communicative sequence of letters and numbers” does not raise concerns of unfairness or unconscionability that the FDCPA was designed to prevent.  Judge Chang reasoned that in Douglass, the court had no need to decide the precise scope of the statutory ban imposed by § 1692f(8) because the Douglass court held the display of an account number was an obvious breach of a debtor’s privacy.  Notably, in Schmid, the plaintiff did not allege that the entirety of string of letters and numbers was his account number; rather, his account number was embedded in this string. 

Judge Chang found that because a debtor would not perceive such string of “otherwise nonsensical” letters and numbers as associated with debt collection, the core concern of privacy as highlighted in the Douglass decision does not come into play.