Can a debt collector leave a message on my answering machine?

Whether a debt collector can leave a message on your answering machine depends on whether others could hear the message and what the collector said.


A debt collector left a message on my answering machine? Is this legal?


It depends. If the machine is shared by others, or can be heard by others, then it's likely that the collector violated the law. If the machine is private, the collector might be able to leave a message, but must be very careful what it says. The federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) places limitations on how and when a debt collector can contact you, and what it says when it does. That includes leaving voice messages on your answering machine.

What the Debt Collector Must Include in its Communication

Under the FDCPA, a communication from a debt collector must meaningfully disclose the identity of the debt collector and provide what is called a "mini-Miranda" warning. The communication must:

  • identify the debt collector (name, employer, and telephone number) and
  • state that the communication is an attempt to collect a debt, and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose (the mini-Miranda warning).

Under a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rule, effective in late 2021, debt collectors must make the mini-Miranda disclosures in the same language or languages used for the rest of the communication in which the disclosures are conveyed. Collectors don't, however, have to identify which consumers can't communicate in English, nor provide translations in multiple languages.

Privacy Protections Under the FDCPA

That doesn't mean the debt collector's message on your machine is necessarily legal. This is because the FDCPA is also designed to protect your privacy. The FDCPA prohibits a debt collector from disclosing information about your debt to third parties. If your answering machine is shared with other people, then the communication might violate your rights under the FDCPA. If the debt collector fails to follow these requirements, or leaves misleading or harassing messages, then it might have violated other the parts of the FDCPA.

Your state's laws might provide you additional protection.

Talk to an Attorney

If you think you're being harassed or treated unfairly by a debt collector, consider talking to an attorney to learn more about your rights.

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