Can a debt collector leave a message for a debtor with a third party who answers the debtor’s phone?  In Halberstam v. Global Credit and Collection Corp., the District Court for the Eastern District of New York answered in the negative, holding that such action violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).

The issue presented in Halberstam was whether a debt collector, whose telephone call to a debtor is answered by a third party, may leave his name and number for the debtor to return the call, without disclosing that he is a debt collector.  The debt collector in that case left his name and number and told the third party he was calling “regarding a personal business matter.”

While the debt collector was entitled to place a call to the debtor, the Court held that when the third party answered the call and asked if the unidentified collector wanted to leave a message, a debt collector must refrain from leaving callback information.  Because the debt collector in Halberstam instead “seized upon the opportunity” to solicit the debtor into calling him back without the debtor knowing who he was calling, his actions violated the FDCPA.

The Court found the debt collector’s intent to be obvious.  “The only way to avoid violating the statute at that point was for [the debt collector] to make a different decision by politely demurring, and perhaps trying again at some point in the future.”