No, they cannot. This would be a clear violation of federal law.
The area of law governing this particular subject is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This federal statute regulates what a collection agency can and cannot do when they attempt to collect on a debt. Section 804(5) states specifically that: ‘Any debt collector communicating with any person other than the consumer for the purpose of acquiring location information about the consumer shall – not use any language or symbol on any envelope or in the contents of any communications effected by the mails or telegram that indicates that the debt collector is in the debt collection business or that the communication relates to the collection of a debt.’
This is pretty straightforward language, as far as legal statutes go. It is clear on its face as to its meaning, with no ambiguity as to the intent of what it is trying to say. This is what lawyer like myself love to read. It means that conduct on the part of the collection agency that is unlawful is as easy to prove as simply saying, “Your Honor, do you see this envelope that has the words ‘Joe Smith owes a debt and we are trying to collect on it’? That is a clear violation of the law.” Of course, it’s not ever that clear. The collection agencies are usually smarter than that. But that doesn’t mean that violations of this type do not occur with frequency.
The reason why this particular section was put into place was primarily to avoid confusion. But it also goes a long away in trying to prevent embarrassment for people. Imagine if you answer the door, and your neighbor is holding a couple of letters from various debt collectors (each with glaring words emblazoned on the front of the envelope indicating to the whole world that you owe debts that have been passed onto a collection agency).
But let’s assume that the collection letter was correctly sent to your address, and you were the only person who visually saw the envelope and its contents. Does this mean that the collector can in this instance place words or symbols on the envelope that indicate that they are a debt collector trying to collect a debt, and that the letter inside is information pertaining to this matter? No, absolutely not. The law was written for a very specific purpose, and the collection agencies must follow it, or pay you damages for having violated your consumer rights (usually in the amount of $1,000).
And if you are suffering from a great many other debts, it may also be wise to look into a Missouri bankruptcy (whether it is a St. Louis Chapter 7 bankruptcy or a St. Louis Chapter 13 bankruptcy). The affordable St. Louis bankruptcy lawyers at The Law Office of Jennifer Alter-Rieken have been making sure our client’s rights are protected against the bad conduct of debt collectors for years. Our goal is get you best outcome possible, get the creditors off your back, and put you back on the road towards financial freedom.