Lynn M. Dankowski, Esq.
Dear Ms. Dankowski:
I am responding to your request for an opinion regarding whether your client, a collection agency, would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA") if it uses the words "Creditor's Bureau" in its name when communicating with consumers. As you point out, section 807(16) of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(16), prohibits "debt collectors," such as your client, from falsely representing or implying that they operate or are employed by a "consumer reporting agency," as that term is defined by section 603(f) of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(f).
If a debt collector is also a "consumer reporting agency," the FDCPA does not prohibit the debt collector from using a company name such as "Credit Bureau of ____" to indicate that it is a consumer reporting agency. Based on your letter, however, it does not appear that your client's business has a consumer reporting agency component. Thus, the issue is whether your client's use of the proposed company name, "Creditor's Bureau of Missoula," when contacting consumers(1) would be a false representation or implication that the company is, at least in part, a consumer reporting agency. In the Staff Commentary on the FDCPA, Commission staff stated that "[o]nly a bona fide consumer reporting agency may use names such as "Credit Bureau," "Credit Bureau Collection Agency," "General Credit Control," "Credit Bureau Rating, Inc.," or "National Debtors Rating." 53 Fed. Reg. 50097, 50107 (Dec. 13, 1998).(2) All five of these company names imply that the company is in the business of reporting credit information to consumers' prospective creditors. I believe that your client would violate section 807(16) if it used any of these five company names when contacting consumers.
Unlike the five prohibited company names listed above, however, the name "Creditor's Bureau of Missoula" does not, by itself, appear to imply that the company is in the business of reporting credit information to prospective creditors. When most consumers refer to consumer reporting agencies, they use the term "credit bureau," rather than the term "creditor's bureau." Thus, if your client includes nothing else in its collection letters to give consumers the false impression that the company is a consumer reporting agency, it appears that your client would not violate section 807(16) by using the name Creditor's Bureau of Missoula. To strengthen your client's contention that it is not violating section 807(16), however, I recommend that the company's collection communications, both oral and written, make abundantly clear to consumers that they are being contacted by a debt collector and not a credit bureau.
The views expressed in this letter represent an informal staff opinion and are not binding on the Commission. They do, however, reflect the staff's current enforcement position.
Thomas E. Kane
1. The FDCPA does not address what name a debt collector may use for purposes other than its contacts with consumers.
2. See also Letter from Roger J. Fitzpatrick, Attorney, Division of Credit Practices, Federal Trade Commission, to Thomas Isgrigg (Nov. 10, 1992) at 3 (attached and available from the Commission's website at www.ftc.gov/os/statutes/fdcpajump.htm).