Unfair Debt Collection Law’s Application for Massachusetts Consumers

Our clients often ask us about he United States Fair Debt Collection Practices Act 15 United States Code, Sections 1692-1692p. Our Massachusetts bankruptcy practice involves assisting clients who are victims of unfair debt collection. This blog article is an attempt to overview the situation for our clients.

First, what debts are covered under debt collection law? The law covers personal, family and household debts. This includes loans for personal motor vehicles, medical bills, credit card debt, insurance and personal loans. Note, the act does not cover business loans or business debt. Second, who is a debt collector? The statute is very clear that any person who uses the phone or the mail to attempt to collect a debt is a “debt collector.” The FDCPA makes it very clear what the debt collectors may, and may not, do.
One important aspect of the law is to know your rights with respect to those pesky debt collectors. Absent consent from the consumer, a debt collector may not contact you at “inconvenient” times; after 8 p.m. and before 9 a.m. local time; if you have an attorney and the debt collector has knowledge of the attorney’s name and phone number; at work, if the debt collector knows that your employer “prohibits” such communication. Furthermore, consumers have the right to simply write a letter to the debt collector asking that they cease all communications; the debt collector is then only allowed to communicate in a very limited fashion (to notify that they will indeed stop and to inform that they will attempt a specific remedy, such as filing a lawsuit.). See our model letter below.
Harassment by debt collectors and false and misleading representations. The FDCPA forbids “any conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.” In addition, the law prevents debt collectors from using “any false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of a debt.” The law defines harassment and false and misleading actions clearly. There are considerable penalties imposed against the debt collectors for violation of the law.
This article is not intended as a definitive treatise on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It is, however, an attempt to teach clients and potential clients of their rights. Our clients often forward No-Contact Letters to creditors, file Answers and Counter Claims to lawsuits brought by creditors, or, ultimately, file personal bankruptcy if the debts are significant relative to their income and assets.
If you intend to send a letter, be sure that you 1. get the debt collector’s address correct; 2. state your name and address; and 3. clearly identify your account(s) number. The following is a draft of a letter that could be sent to a debt collector:

“I am writing to request that you stop communications with me or anyone else regarding the above identified debt in accordance with my rights under the United States Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.A., §1692c(c).

“I request that you cease all written and verbal communications with me. I am aware that if you continue to contact me after receiving this letter, it is harassment in violation of the FDCPA. I have been advised to contact legal council if my FECPA rights are violated Thank you for you anticipated cooperation in accordance with the law.”