It seems like everyone is on Facebook or Twitter these days. From the young to the old, a huge majority of people are taking to social media to stay connected with friends and family. What if I told you that’s exactly what some debt collectors are hoping for?
Debt collectors who use social media to try to contact and/or harass someone are in clear violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but unfortunately that doesn’t stop all of them. Over the past decade, debt collectors have found unique ways to find and track debtors. From fax machines to business name searches online and more, it is very difficult to avoid technology savvy debt collectors who will stop at nothing to get your money.
Social media has now become a part of their arsenal. In short, debt collectors are not allowed to harass you on social media. Provisions of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act that was passed a long time ago still apply to new technologies, including social media.
However, in recent years there has been a variety of cases that include debt collectors attempting to contact third parties that are known to be connected with the debtor through social media, especially via Facebook. The debt collection agency would then attempt to gain information about the debtor via the third party or even try to pose as someone else and attempt to become friends directly with the individual who owes the debt.
Debt collectors have also resorted to posting demeaning messages about the debtor to all of his or her friends in a humiliating way and forcing them to pay before those messages are taken down or are changed.
The Ethical and Legal Issues Brought On By These Practices
If you haven’t configured your Privacy Settings on Facebook to determine who may see your information you’ve set yourself up for harassment, and while it isn’t ethically or legally allowed, debt collectors may still attempt to harass you and contact you via social media if you owe a debt. Here are just a few tricks they might try:
Falsifying a Profile – This is the most common method used on social media. This is ethically and morally wrong, and it is illegal. Debt collectors cannot lie and pretend to be someone else in order to gain access to you or your personal contact information.
Posting Malicious Public Comments – While not a well known tactic, a debt collector who attempts to contact you via social media with little success might try to post public comments that are demeaning in nature. This tactic is used to force people to pay out of humiliation, but similar to falsifying a profile is illegal.
Soliciting Friends – Debt collectors might also attempt to solicit your friends on Facebook and other social media websites in an attempt to gain access to you. In most cases, a debt collector needs proper authorization to contact other individuals to gain access to you or your information. If they are using social media to do this, it is highly unethical, embarrassing, and also very illegal.
Can I Protect Myself?
Over the last five years the federal government has set up a variety of new processes which are designed for consumers who want to protect themselves against malicious debt collectors.
The end goal is to have the debt collector stop contacting you in an illegal manner. If necessary, consumers can file an official report to help bring a potential lawsuit against a specific collector if enough people have filed complaints against them.
Write a Letter – The first step is to write a letter to the collector requesting that they cease and desist from all communication with you. If your debt is past the statute of limitations in your state, make sure to put a small paragraph stating that you neither confirm nor deny that you are the person responsible for the debt, but you just don’t want them to contact you by any means.
Check Your Credit Report – As soon as you write the letter, check your credit report to ensure that everything is accurate. If you notice a debt on the report that isn’t yours, dispute it immediately with the reporting agency.
File a Complaint – If the collector is still trying to contact you, the next step is to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your State Attorney’s office. Each complaint goes on record, and if enough complaints are filed, the agency will likely file a lawsuit against the collector.
Changing Your Social Media Habits
Debt collectors are only part of a bigger problem that people face on social media: Privacy.
The best way to protect yourself against debt collectors online is to keep your information private. Change your privacy settings so that your friends are the only ones that are allowed to see what you post and are the only ones that are allowed to contact you at any time.
Make sure you are friends with only people you actually know in real life. There are a lot of “fake profiles” out there or people pretending to be someone that aren’t. While most of the methods used to contact debtors online are illegal, collection agencies will likely do what they can to get their money back. So it’s important you protect yourself and your privacy.
Lauralynn Schueckler is the Online Marketing Specialist at Advantage Credit Counseling Service. She is the author for Advantage CCS’s Blog called Dollars & Sense. Advantage Credit Counseling Service is a member of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. Contact Advantage Credit Counseling at 866.699.2227, or visit them online at www.advantageccs.org.
Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.