Most debtors hate to hear the phone ring. You know it will be that debt collector again. Do you answer it quickly and hang up? Do you let it ring and ring until it goes to voicemail? These calls can be embarrassing if you have friends over. Debt collector calls interrupt your life and disturb your peace. And you know they will keep calling until you pay, even if you have no money or payment would cause your family hardship.
What is the Massachusetts Two-Call Per Week Law?
The Massachusetts Attorney General recently restricted debt collectors to making your home or cell phone ring or texting you no more than two times in any seven-day period. Specifically, the new rule made it an unfair or deceptive practice for a creditor to contact a debtor by:
(f) Initiating a communication with any debtor via telephone, either in person or via text messaging or recorded audio message, in excess of two such communications in each seven-day period to either the debtor’s residence, cellular telephone, or other telephone number provided by the debtor as his or her personal telephone number….
To clarify the new rule, the Attorney General issued a “Guidance with Respect to Debt Collection Regulations”. It stated as follows:
“The goal of this provision is to not only limit the number of times a creditor can communicate with a debtor via telephone to try to collect a debt, but to also limit the fees that a creditor can impose on a debtor (thereby limiting voicemails and text messages to twice in a seven-day period).”
The regulation has two exceptions:
It does not change the ability of secured creditors to enforce their rights against their collateral, such as a home or vehicle, as provided by their security agreement.
The two-day limitation does not apply to a creditor who is truly unable to reach the debtor or leave a message for the debtor.The attorney general added that it would not tolerate conduct which harassed, oppressed, or abused a debtor.
How Did the Two-Call Per Week Law Wind Up in Court?
By limiting the number of calls, this regulation deprived debt collectors of one of their favorite tactics. One debt collector, Glenn Associates. Inc., tried to find a way around the law. Its reasoning went something like this: If we don’t leave a message, then we haven’t communicated with the debtor. Since we haven’t communicated, the 2-day limit does not apply.
On December 17, 2014, a Glenn Associates representative called Brent Watkins on his cell and talked about his alleged student loan debt. Glenn Associates called Watkins’ cell again at 11:12 a.m. and 6:08 p.m. on December 22 and at 10:18 a.m. and 5:55 p.m. on December 23. These four calls went to Watkins’ voice mail, but Glenn Associates chose not to leave a message.
Watkins sued for damages alleging that Glenn Associates engaged in a deceptive practice by calling his cell more than twice in a seven-day period.
How Did the Court Decide the Two-Call Per Week Case?
Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Dennis J. Curran rejected Glenn Associates’ contention that it did not communicate with Watkins because it did not leave a message. First, he stated that Glenn Associates repeated calls indirectly communicated a message to Watkins that the debt collector wanted to talk to him again about the debt. Judge Curran said this squarely fit within the law’s definition of “communication”. Second, he referred to the attorney general’s statement that the law purposely limited the number of calls to two in a seven-day period.
Judge Curran stated that the two-call rule, along with other provisions of the Massachusetts Debt Collection law, protects debtors from harassment, oppression, and abuse and “…prevent the exact type of repetitive, aggressive, unwanted phone calls that occurred here.”
“There is much to be said for an individual’s peace of mind in an economic society that seeks to destroy it. The defendant’s conduct was insidiously and obviously designed — twice – to invade the privacy of an individual’s dinner hour. That is simply not right,” Judge Curran wrote in his decision granting Watkins summary judgment.
If I Live in Massachusetts What Can I Do If A Debt Collector Makes More than Two Calls Per Week to Me?
Under Massachusetts law, you can sue the collector. If successful to can be awarded:
Your actual damages
Other damages set by the court not to exceed $1,000
Damages may be doubled or trebled if the debt collector willfully broke the law.
Massachusetts has certain rules about filing a lawsuit. Be sure to consult an experienced consumer debt collector lawyer.
If a debt collector has been hounding you, to speak with a representative directly and immediately call 203-978-3421 for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Our attorneys have experience in fighting debt collectors and standing up for consumers. If a debt buyer has violated the Massachusetts Debt Collection law, you’re entitled to file suit in state or federal court and could be awarded damages.
About the Author:
Sergei Lemberg is a lawyer whose practice focuses on consumer law, class actions and personal injury litigation. He has been repeatedly recognized as the “most active consumer attorney” in the country. In 2020, Mr. Lemberg represented Noah Duguid in the United States Supreme Court in the case entitled Duguid v. Facebook. He is the author of Defanging Debt Collectors, a book that teaches consumers how to battle debt collectors and win.
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