Debt Collection Harassment in Massachusetts
Harassment is prohibited in connection with debt collection under both the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, and the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Massachusetts General Laws chapter 93A.
Debt-collection harassment encompasses a variety of different actions, including:
- The use or threat of violence, or criminal harm to one’s person, reputation, or property,
- Using obscene or profane language,
- Publishing a list of consumers who allegedly don’t pay their debts,
- Advertising a consumer’s debt for sale in order to coerce payment,
- Causing the phone to ring repeatedly,
- Placing phone calls without disclosure of the caller’s identity.
These are all specifically prohibited under 15 U.S.C. 1692d.
Recognizing that there is no limitation of how creative debt collectors might be in their harassment of consumers, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act says that any other behavior that would harass, oppress, or abuse someone also is illegal.
One of the purposes of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is to prevent a race to the bottom that disadvantages those who are collecting according to the law. There are other ways besides abusive debt collection to contact consumers.
Where can a debt-collection-harassment lawsuit be filed? In either state or federal court. Usually, lawsuits under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are filed in federal court because the FDCPA is a federal law. Conversely, lawsuits under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, called Chapter 93A, are usually filed in state court.
Statutory damages, actual damages, costs, and attorney’s fees are all available to consumers who prevail in their claims against lawsuits.
Debt collectors often run roughshod over consumers, threatening them, disrespecting them, and demanding money that is protected from garnishment like Social Security.
Consumers have an arsenal of protections though – they just need to use it. Under federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, prohibits debt collectors from engaging in harassment, false or misleading communications, and requires them to provide validation of the debt upon request by the consumer. It also prohibits debt collectors from suing in inconvenient courts and from informing third parties about debts.
Similarly, the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, called Chapter 93A, also prohibits similar conduct. There are regulations of debt collectors issued by both the Massachusetts Attorney General at 940 C.M.R. 7.00, and by the Massachusetts Division of Banks at 209 C.M.R. 18.00.
In fact, Massachusetts law protects consumers not just from debt collectors (who are usually third parties), but also from unfair practices committed by the original creditor, as well. This prohibition is mandated by the legislature as enacted at Chapter 93, Section 49 of the Massachusetts General Laws. It states that “no one who is a creditor or an attorney for a creditor, or an assignee of a creditor, … shall collect or attempt to collect such debt in an unfair, deceptive or unreasonable manner.”
If a debt collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they are subject to statutory damages of $100-$1,000, plus actual damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees.
If a debt collector violates Chapter 93A or any of the debt collection regulations, they are subject to statutory damages of $25, plus actual damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees. If a judge finds that the violation was intentional, he or she may, but is not required to, order double or triple damages.