Debt Collection, Harassment, Cell Phones, Federal Law, and Massachusetts Law

See Also: Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers

Obviously, it is annoying to receive unwanted telephone calls from anyone, especially telemarketers and debt collectors. When calls are about a debt you don’t even owe, or to your cell phone, or placed by an autodialer, they are downright infuriating.  There are a number of overlapping state and federal consumer protection statutes – 93A,  FDCPA and TCPA – that can be used to stop harassment and penalize violators.

Massachusetts law

93A prohibits unfair and deceptive conduct directed at Massachusetts consumers. The Massachusetts Debt Collection Law, c. 93 § 49, prohibits the collection or attempted collection of a debt in “an unfair, deceptive or unreasonable manner.” Any violation of 93 § 49 is considered an “unfair or deceptive act or practice” under 93A. 93 § 49 specifies four particular practices deemed to be unfair, deceptive or unreasonable, of which harassment is one.

Federal law

FDCPA prohibits further contact upon written request. FDCPA requires validation of a questioned debt. TCPA prohibits calls initiated by an auto dialer to a cellular telephone. If the consumer did not provide their cell phone number to the original creditor or the debt collector, the debt collector violates the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) every time it calls the consumer’s cell phone by using an auto-dialer or predictive dialing machine. TCPA violations occur when the caller causes a phone to ring.

The four most important things the FDCPA provide are:

  • the right to be be left alone by debt collectors upon written request;
  • the right to dispute a debt and to be shown that there is a valid debt being collected;
  • the right to be undisturbed by abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices;
  • to receive up to $1,000 for each such violation.

The three most important things the TCPA provide are:

Statutory Damages

FDCPA:  up to $1,000, attorneys’ fees, and costs per call.

TCPA: $500 per violation and, if the violation is willful and knowing,  up to $1,500 per call.

There are exceptions to the TCPA. The most commonly invoked exception is  “express consent.” The FCC opined that “the provision of a cell phone number to a creditor, e.g., as part of a credit application, reasonably evidences prior express consent by the cell phone subscriber to be contacted at that number regarding the debt.” 2008 TCPA Order at ¶9. Tang v. Enhanced Recovery, LLC.  Annoying debt collection calls, even those to the wrong person, are not necessarily violations. See: NY Federal Court Agrees: No Telephone Consumer Protection Act Violation for Misdirected Prerecorded Debt Collection Calls, and Santino v. NCO.

These days, most people do not have landlines, and use only a cell phone as their primary phone number. When a debt collector is hounding you on your cell phone,  the question of course becomes, “Can A Debt Collector Call My Cell Phone?” Basically, the answer is no, unless you gave the original creditor your cell phone number.

How to make calls stop?

Should You Hire an Attorney?

Yes.  If you do not have a lawyer, hold your horses.  Before firing off a letter to the debt collector yourself, calling a consumer protection attorney who practices law in your state is the best first step.  See:  “Cease And Desist” Requests Are Seldom Advisable And Should Be In Writing. The unintended consequences of do-it-yourself legal work can be severe.

If you decide to go ahead and handle debt collectors yourself, below is dual purpose “validate the debt” & “stop calling me” sample letter:

One way to send it would be via this free online fax service:


Sam Sample
101 Sam Adams Lane
Boston, MA 02114

Bad Corp.
101 Malevolence Lane
St. Paul, MN 55102

Via: Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested
Re: Account Number:

Dear Bad Corp.,

This letter is to inform you that I dispute owing the debt you are trying to collect.  If you think I am incorrect, please mail me whatever proof you can of what you think I owe.  Please do not call my cell phone (xxx) yyy-yyyy or my home phone (xxx) zzz-zzzz. If you think that I gave you permission to call either number in the past, I am revoking it now.  If you do call me again, I will record your call.


Sam Sample

Other Debt Form Letters

A good debt dispute form letter is here.

A good sample stop debt collection form letter is here:

Then What?

1. Keep proof that you asked the company to stop calling you (fax receipt, or certified mail return receipt).

2. Important: Keep a log of calls (if any) you receive from the company after that point.

  • A good sample call log is here here
  • A good sample Collection conversation log is here.

3. Collect money damages by suing the wrongdoer.

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