What are my rights when debt collectors contact me?

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Greater Boston Legal Services

Creditors and debt collectors have the right to try to collect money you owe them. They may call, text, send direct messages on social media, send letters, and email you asking for payments. But you also have rights when they contact you.

What protections do I have against both original creditors and debt collectors?

The Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act protects you from harassment from creditors and debt collectors (including their lawyers). The Attorney General also has regulations about how debt collectors can and cannot act when they contact you.

Creditors, debt buyers, and collection agencies cannot:

  • Threaten to call the police to arrest you if you do not pay your debt.
  • Call, text, or leave a voice message at your personal number more than twice a week per debt.
  • Call, text, or leave a message for you at any place other than your home more than twice per debt in any 30-day period.
  • Call you at work if you told them not to.
    • If you tell them not to call you at work, they cannot call for 10 days. If you want them not to call you at work at all, write to them within 7 days after you first talked to them. In the letter, tell them not to call you at work.
    • If they reach out to you at work, they need to send you a written notice of your rights within 30 days after they first reached out to you.
  • Charge you for long distance calls, text messaging, download and data usage fees, or similar charges.
  • Threaten to take legal action if they are not planning to take you to court.
  • Use profane or obscene language.
  • Visit or call your home before 8:00 AM and after 9:00 PM.
  • Visit your home more than once in 30 days for each debt.
  • Visit you at work.
  • Send collection notices in envelopes that show you owe a debt. For example, they cannot mail you postcards or have descriptive return addresses.
  • Tell anyone about your debt. This includes your friends, neighbors, relatives, and employers.

Creditors, debt buyers and collection agencies must:

  • Identify both the name of the business/creditor and the first and last name of the person calling;
  • Only call you during your normal waking hours. The default is 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM, but if you have a different schedule, tell the creditors. They can only call you during the hours you have told them you are awake;
  • Contact your lawyer, if you ask the creditor, debt buyer, or collection agency to contact your lawyer and not you.
What extra protections do I have against debt collectors?

The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you more protection from debt collectors. This law does not apply to “original creditors'' like banks or credit card companies.

The first time a debt collector reaches out to you, they must tell you:

  • The amount of the debt, and
  • Who you owe the money to (the “creditor”).

 If they do not tell you this information, they must send you a letter with this information within 5 days of the call.

You have 30 days from when the debt collector first contacts you to:

  • Disagree with the debt,
  • Ask for proof of the debt, and
  • Ask for the name and address of the original creditor.

You can send the debt collector a debt validation letter to get more information about the debt. If you send a debt validation letter, the collector must provide certain information to “validate” or prove that you owe the debt.

If you send a validation letter within 30 days after the debt collector first contacts you, they must stop all collection actions until they respond to your letter with proof of the debt.

Write a letter to the collector telling them to stop contacting you. Once the collection agency gets your letter, they may not contact you again to demand payment. They are allowed to write back to tell you that they will not contact you again. Also, they can contact you to tell you if they have to take a “secured” item or take you to court.

See a sample Cease and Desist letter you can use.

Debt collectors can only take assets that “secure” your debt. These are items that you agreed could be taken if you do not make payments.

For example, if you stop paying an auto loan, the debt collector may be able to take your car. Debt collectors do not have to go to court to repossess “secured” items.

How can I stop a debt collector from harassing me?

Keep a journal of the debt collectors' phone calls

Each time a debt collector calls, write down the date and time. Get the caller’s name, the company’s name, and the telephone number they called from. Take notes on what they say. Keeping a log helps you keep track of how many people are calling you and how often. A log also can be a good record of collection abuse.

You can use this Debt Collector Tracking Sheet

Record the calls

Get permission to record the calls you have with a debt collector. Some debt collectors might lie about what they said to you, so it’s helpful to have recorded evidence.


Everyone in the conversation must agree to being recorded. In Massachusetts it is a crime to record any conversation secretly. When you pick up the phone, you must ask the debt collector if you can record the phone call before any recording.

Write a letter

Write a letter to the debt collector to tell them to stop harassing you. 

File a complaint

File a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

Talk to an attorney

Talk to an attorney who takes debt collection cases regularly. Here’s how to find legal help near you.

For more information, see this toolkit from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: When Debt Collectors Call.


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