Fair Debt Collection

You have rights when someone attempts to collect a debt from you. Learn more from the Attorney General's Office.

Massachusetts law prohibits unfair, deceptive, and unreasonable debt-collection practices. The Attorney General has issued debt collection regulations that establish standards by defining unfair and deceptive acts and practices for the collection of debt from Massachusetts consumers. The regulations apply to original creditors (including their attorneys), third-party debt collection agencies, and buyers of delinquent debt who hire third parties, including attorneys, to collect debt on their behalf. A violation of the regulations is a violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, G.L. c. 93A. The regulations of the Massachusetts Division of Banks prohibit unfair debt collection practices by debt collection agencies.

Communication with Creditors and Collection Agencies

The Attorney General’s debt collection regulations prohibit:

  • Calling you at home more than twice for each debt in any seven-day period, or more than twice for each debt in any 30-day period at some place other than your home, such as your place of work.
  • Calling you at work if you have requested that they not call.  Oral requests are valid for 10 days. Written requests are valid until you remove the restriction.
  • Calling you without identifying who they are. Be cautious when talking to anyone who claims you owe a debt to them but will not provide you with their name and contact information – they may be a scammer trying to get a quick payday!
  • Contacting you directly if you are represented by an attorney.
  • Calling you at times other than your normal waking hours. If your waking hours are unknown, then they may only call between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.  If your waking hours are different than the normal hours and you inform the debt collector of your normal waking hours, they cannot contact you outside of those hours. It is your duty to inform the debt collector that you have different waking hours.
  • Making any false, deceptive, or misleading statement when attempting to collect a debt.
  • Collecting or attempting to collect any amount that is not expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.
  • Falsely threatening that nonpayment of a debt will result in your arrest or imprisonment, any action that cannot legally be taken, or any action that is not intended to be taken.
  • Attempting to collect a debt that is legally unenforceable because the time period for filing a lawsuit has passed without disclosing that the debt may be unenforceable and that any payment you make may re-start the time period for filing a lawsuit.
  • Using profane or obscene language.
  • Causing expense to you in the form of long distance calls, express mail charges, wire fees, or other similar charges.
  • Telling anyone (including your friends, neighbors, relatives, or employers) about your debt, without your written consent.
  • Requesting or demanding a post dated check.
  • Visiting your home at times other than your normal waking hours, and visiting you more than once in any 30-day period for each debt, unless you give permission for additional visits.

Locating a debtor

Creditors and debt collection agencies are permitted to try to locate a debtor by contacting persons other than the debtor or persons residing in the debtor's household, if the creditor or debt collection agency reasonably believes that it no longer has current information on the debtor's location. However, it may not inform anyone it calls about your debt.

  • Don’t miss your court date!  If you don’t show up, the court may decide the case against you and enter a judgment saying that you owe the money. In some cases, the court may issue a warrant for your arrest (called a capias).
  • If you can’t afford to pay a debt let the court know.  You can’t be ordered by a court to pay a debt from certain types of income, such as Unemployment Benefits, Workers Compensation Benefits, and Social Security Benefits.
  • If you agree to a payment plan with the debt collector, ask for a copy of the agreement. Make sure you understand the agreement and that you can afford the payments.
  • If you want an attorney to represent you at your court date, you may wish to contact the Massachusetts Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 1-800-552-7046 or contact your local bar association’s lawyer referral service.
  • Information about free or low-cost legal help is also available at: www.masslegalhelp.org

If you do not recognize the debt

  • Demand proof of the debt from the debt collector or a copy of the judgment against you.
  • Do not give out personal information such as your social security number or financial account numbers to a caller claiming to collect a debt.  
  • Report scams to:

Mail Scams:

Telephone/Fax Scams:

Internet/Email Scams:

 

U.S. Postal Inspection Service,

Postal Crime Hotline

www.postalinspectors.uspis.gov

(877) 876-2455

 

 

Federal Trade Commission,

Consumer Protection Bureau

www.ftc.gov

(877) 382-4357

 

Federal Bureau of Investigation,

Internet Crime Complaint Center

www.ic3.gov

-or-

www.econsumer.gov

(for foreign companies/websites)

If your personal information has been stolen—get help!  Victims of Identity Theft can find more information at https://www.identitytheft.gov/  a website of the Federal Trade Commission.

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