By the Division of Banks
If you are being contacted by a debt collector, take a moment to understand your rights as a consumer.
- What is a debt collector?
- Who can help me?
- What should I do if I’m contacted about a debt?
- Consumer Protections
- Resources for Servicemembers
Below are several categories of debt collectors:
Debt collector - A debt collector is any person whose business it is to collect or attempt to collect debt owed or due to another. A debt collector must be licensed by the Division of Banks and is subject to the state and federal debt collection laws and regulations.
Debt buyer – A debt buyer purchases debt that is already in default and attempts to collect on the purchased debt. A debt buyer must be licensed as a debt collector by the Division of Banks. Debt buyers are subject to the Commonwealth’s debt collection laws and regulations.
"Passive" debt buyer or "passive" investor - A "passive" debt buyer purchases delinquent consumer debts for investment purposes only and does not take part in any activities to directly collect on the debt. Commonly, the "passive" debt buyer hires either a licensed debt collector or an attorney to directly collect the purchased debts. A "passive" debt buyer is not required to obtain a debt collector license in Massachusetts if the collections are done by a properly licensed debt collector or an attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth. For more information, review Selected Opinion 06-060 - "Passive" Debt Buyer Exemption from Debt Collector License - October 13, 2006 .
Attorney collecting debt – An attorney licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth is not required to be licensed by the Division of Banks to collect debt on behalf of a client. While attorneys collecting debt are not subject to the Commonwealth’s Debt Collection Law they are subject to the Supreme Judical Court’s Rules of Professional Conduct, the disciplinary oversight of the Board of Bar Overseers, restrictions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and the debt collection regulations of the Attorney General’s office. For more information, review Selected Opinion 06-059 - Attorney-at-law Exclusion and Applicability of the Debt Collection Law to Attorneys - October 13, 2006 .
If you have a complaint or concern with a debt collector company you may contact the Division of Banks. The Division can verify the company is licensed to do business as a debt collector in Massachusetts and respond to complaints or take action if there is a violation of the Commonwealth’s debt collection laws and regulations. To verify if an individual or company is licensed as a Debt Collector with the Division of Banks, you can visit Find a Licensee. For additional assistance, contact the Division’s Consumer Hotline at 1-800-495-BANK (2265), ext. 501.
If you have a complaint or concern with the original creditor you may contact the Attorney General's Public Inquiry and Assistance Center Hotline at 617-727-8400.
If you have a complaint or concern with an attorney collecting debt you may call the Attorney General's Public Inquiry and Assistance Center Hotline at 617-727-8400 or the Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP) of the Office of the Bar Counsel at (617) 728-8750.
Additional resources are available online through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Consumer Help Hotline at (855) 411-CFPB (2372).
If you are contacted by someone about a debt, do not give out any personal information (account numbers, social security number, etc.) until you first:
- Request verification of a disputed debt in writing.
- Check the licensing status with the Division of a debt collector OR the Bar status of an attorney by calling (617) 728-8750.
Then, you should:
- Create a paper trail by keeping a record of the date, time and name of the individual contacting you and putting all of your requests and responses in writing.
- If you do in fact owe the debt, plan to repay any undisputed obligation and determine a payment plan you can maintain and provide that to the creditor or debt collector in writing.
A creditor is unable to seize certain funds and property to satisfy an outstanding debt. There are also additional protections in place for consumers who are over 60 years of age or consumers who are handicapped. These protections ensure that financially distressed Massachusetts residents are able to maintain the basic necessities of life.
The following rules apply to all consumer debt and detail what is required of a creditor or debt collector, what they can do to attempt to collect the debt, and what they cannot do to attempt to collect the debt.
A creditor or debt collector MUST:
- Tell you the amount of the debt and the name of the creditor to whom it is owed at the initial communication or within five days of the contact.
- Disclose in the initial communication that they are attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose.
- Disclose the name of the creditor or debt collection company and the name of the individual collector making the contact.
- Inform you of the name and address of the original creditor if you request that information in writing within 30 days of the initial contact.
- Communicate directly with your attorney if you provide such information to the creditor or debt collector.
- Notify you in writing within 30 days of the initial contact of your right to not have collection telephone calls made to your place of work.
A creditor or debt collector CAN:
- Assume a debt is valid if it is not disputed within 30 days of contacting the consumer.
- Contact any person, including family and friends, for the sole purpose or acquiring information on where you live or how to contact you.
- Call you at home and come to your residence during normal working hours which are from 8:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M., but only twice in any seven day period.
- Collect expenses in excess of the amount owed, such as fees or interest, if such charges are expressly authorized by the agreement or permitted by law.
A creditor or debt collector CANNOT:
- Discuss your debt with third parties, such as friends or neighbors without your direct prior consent or judicial authority.
- Represent or imply they are affiliated with the federal government or any state or distribute any document which simulates or falsely represents that it is authorized by any court or government agency.
- Use or threat to use violence or criminal means to cause physical harm, or harm to your reputation or property.
The following links provide information on debt collectors and resources for consumers.
The Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation and the Division of Banks provide various resources for the residents of Massachusetts.
- Debt Collection - Frequently Asked Questions
- When in Debt Know Your Rights
- Massachusetts Homeowners: Get Help Now to Save Your Home!
- Consumer Advisory - New rules reduce predatory debt-collection practices, improve consumer protections
- Debt Collections
The Attorney General's Office uses enforcement and investigative tools on behalf of Massachusetts consumers to protect them from fraud and deceptive actions. Additionally, the Office has a number of mediation resources available to the public, and a consumer hotline staffed with skilled mediators.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was established by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. The CFPB conducts rule-making, and has supervision and enforcement for federal consumer financial protection laws.
- Ask CFPB - Debt Collection Q&A
- CFPB Final rule to supervise larger participants in consumer debt collection and consumer reporting markets
- Falling behind on your student loans? Know your options.
- Student Loan Debt Collection Assistant
- Submit a complaint
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides free information to help you spot and prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices. The FTC accepts and tracks individual complaints, but does not provide direct assistance to individuals.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is a non-profit organization with a mission of increasing trust in the marketplace. The BBB can provide information about a company before you do business with it. The BBB can help resolve a complaint you might have against a firm.
In addition to the above resources, the following information is helpful for servicemembers and veterans.