BREAKING: Massachusetts AG Issues Emergency Regulations Banning Outbound Debt Collection Calls & Text Messages
Massachusetts joined the increasing number of states restricting the use of automated calls and text messages during the COVID-19 national pandemic.
Earlier today, Attorney General Maura Healey filed emergency regulations with the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Office “designed to protect consumers from unfair and deceptive debt collection practices” during the COVID-19 crisis. These rules include a ban on outbound debt collection calls and text messages to Massachusetts consumers for the next 90 days, unless Massachusetts’ state of emergency ends before that time, and take effect immediately.
Enacted pursuant to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s March 10 declaration of a state of emergency and the Emergency Adoption Provision of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, the emergency regulations state:
[I]t shall be an unfair or deceptive act or practice for any debt collector to initiate a communication with any debtor via telephone, either in person or by recorded audio message to the debtor’s resident, cellular telephone number, or other telephone number provided by the debtor as his or her personal telephone number, provided that a debt collector shall not be deemed to have initiated a communication with a debtor if the communication by the debt collector is in response to a request made by the debtor for said communication.
While the rule only explicitly references “debt collectors,” the definition of “debt collectors” as applied in the emergency regulations also brings into the fold calls made by debt buyers. Moreover, in addition to calls, text messages are also prohibited.
Exempt from the prohibition are calls or text messages that are intended to “inform a debtor of a rescheduled court appearance date or discuss a mutually convenient date for a rescheduled court appearance” and those related to any debt owed as a result of a loan secured by a mortgage on real property or owed by a tenant. Debt collectors are also permitted to continue fielding inbound calls and text messages as they are received.
With these regulations taking immediate effect, debt collectors and buyers need to act quickly to ensure they cease all non-exempt outbound debt collection calls or text messages to Massachusetts consumers. As with violations of Massachusetts’ telemarketing solicitation rules, violation of these emergency provisions could result in both private lawsuits and state enforcement actions, both of which can result in monetary penalties.