Third Circuit Holds that Inclusion of “Quick Response” Codes on Envelope Violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
In a precedential opinion, DiNaples v. MRS BPO, LLC, the Third Circuit held that adding an unencrypted “quick response” or “QR” code to an envelope containing a debt collection letter violates 15 U.S.C. § 1692f(8) of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”).i That section limits what collection agencies can include on envelopes, prohibiting “language or symbols” other than the debt collector’s address.
The DiNaples panel extended the Third Circuit’s 2014 decision in Douglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, which held that a collection agency violates section 1692f(8) by adding a customer’s account number to an envelope.ii Though the QR code in DiNaples was “facially neutral,” the recipient’s account information was easily obtainable by scanning the code with a smartphone app. The panel found “no material difference” between printing an account number directly on an envelope and using a QR code that could be easily deciphered.
The panel found each of MRS’s arguments on appeal unavailing. The court first held that the plaintiff suffered a “concrete harm” conferring standing, in that the easily readable QR code could lead to an invasion of privacy. Having found standing, the court rejected MRS’s argument that the QR code was “benign language,” a doctrine which exempts from FDCPA liability benign language added to an envelope (e.g., the debtor’s address or pre-printed postage). Noting that the FDCPA “must be broadly construed” the court held that the QR code was not “benign language” because it was “susceptible to privacy intrusions.” Finally, the court held that the QR code was not “benign error” exempt from liability under 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(c). This was because MRS did not make a “clerical or factual mistake” in adding the code, but instead made a “mistake of law,” that its use of QR codes “could not conceivably violate the FDCPA.”
The panel’s holding in DiNaples has far-reaching implications for collection agencies that include unencrypted QR codes on envelopes enclosing collection letters, and expands the bases for liability under section 1692f(8). Please contact Colleen Fox, Esq. or Ryan DiClemente, Esq. for more information on FDCPA compliance and litigation strategies.
i DiNaples v. MRS BPO, LLC, 2019 WL 3773014 (3d Cir. Aug. 12, 2019).
iiDouglass v. Convergent Outsourcing, 765 F.3d 299 (3d Cir. 2014).