“Least sophisticated consumer” standard under the FDCPA


The Eleventh Circuit and the majority of federal circuit courts have adopted the “least-sophisticated consumer” standard in analyzing claims brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).   The least-sophisticated consumer standard is consistent with FDCPA’s goal of expanding the consumer protections originally provided by the Federal Trade Commission Act.   The purpose of the least-sophisticated-consumer standard, here as in other areas of consumer law, is to ensure that the FDCPA protects the gullible as well as the shrewd.   No requirement of proof of actual deception of the consumer is necessary. 

Courts apply this objective standard in order to implement the FDCPA’s dual purpose: to protect consumers against deceptive debt collection practices and to protect debt collectors from unreasonable constructions of their communications to consumer.    The least sophisticated consumer will be presumed to possess a rudimentary amount of information about the world and a willingness to read a collection notice with some care.    However the test also has an objective component in that while protecting naive consumers, the standard also prevents liability for bizarre or idiosyncratic interpretations of collection communications by preserving a quotient of reasonableness.  

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