Be Careful. Debt Collectors May Be Mining Your Social Media Accounts
A debt collector used a Florida woman’s Facebook account to attempt to collect a $362 debt. According to reports, he repeatedly sent Facebook messages to her and her family requesting that she call the agency about the debt. The woman sued the debt collection company, claiming that it harassed her and violated her right to privacy. The judge ordered the company to stop contacting the woman’s family and friends on Facebook. In another case, a Chicago man used his Facebook account to befriend a woman in a bikini. The man learned the “friend” was a debt collector who subsequently posted this message on his Facebook wall: “Pay your debts, you deadbeat.”
Debt Collectors Admit that They Use Social Media to Gather Personal Information
One debt collection company executive described the combination of information easily obtained on public internet sites and social media as a “billboard” of useful information. For example, a debt collector seeking to garnish wages might find a Facebook post of a new job, then check your LinkedIn listing for the new employer.
There is nothing illegal about debt collectors using these open information sources, but there are limits as illustrated by the Florida court’s order. According to a US News report, another debt collection executive gave this example of crossing over into collection tactics which the Federal Trade Commission likely would find impermissible.
“If I were to be a bit surreptitious and if I were to actually try to become your friend on Facebook and you were to accept me as a friend on Facebook, I would get access to all kinds of really, really good information on you,” says Bill Bartmann, CEO of Oklahoma-based debt collection company CFS II.
The Federal Trade Commission is Monitoring the Debt Collectors Use of Social Media
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) uses the federal laws in the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act (FDCPA) to protect consumers from illegal actions by debt collectors, including misusing social media.
“The FTC is keeping a close eye on the use of social media and emerging technology in the collection of debt,” says Christopher Koegel, staff attorney at the commission. “We’ve been monitoring the area for several years.” According to the FTC, a debt collector communicating with a debtor may violate the law by using social media by:
- Requesting to join a debtor’s social media networks
- Make subsequent communications without making the disclosures required by law
- Communicating with third parties, such as friends and family, other than in certain permitted circumstances
- Communicating with third parties to obtain information about the debtor in a manner that violates the law
- Utilizing social media to publish a list of debtors who allegedly fail to pay debts.
- Communicating with debtors or third parties in a false, deceptive, or misleading way
Behind on a Payment? Here are Six Common Sense Steps to Protect Your Social Media Accounts from Illegal Debt Collector Tactics
First, assume that your debt will be turned over to a debt collector.
Second, assume that the debt collector is watching your social media.
Third, do not post your employment, location, contact information, and financial information.
Fourth, educate yourself about your legal rights. The law requires that a debt collector:
- Reveal his identity. He must identify himself and tell you that he is attempting to collect a debt.
- Limit her contacts. A debt collector may only contact you, your attorney, any co-signers, and your spouse.
- Provide you with a written notice.A debt collector must provide you with a written notice of the debt owed within five days.
- Honor your request not to be contacted at work. He can never threaten to tell people about your debt, or threaten your job.
- Honor your request not be contacted.You can only be contacted by her again if the creditor is taking you to court.
Fifth, save any all communications from debt collectors until the matter is resolved. You may need them as evidence.
Sixth, if you suspect your rights have been violated, contact a consumer attorney.
If a debt buyer has been hounding you, to speak with a representative directly and immediately call 844-685-9200 for a free, no obligation case evaluation. Our attorneys have experience in fighting debt buyers and standing up for consumers. If a debt buyer has violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you’re entitled to file suit in federal court, and could be awarded up to $1,000.