Friend or Foe? Debt Collectors Get Social Too
We’ve all done it before — you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Myspace or Linkedin and get friend-requested by someone you don’t know. Curiosity usually gets the best of us and we accept the request to figure out who it is. Next time, before clicking “Accept”, take a moment to think about who you owe money to.
With Caller ID being a standard feature on just about any phone, it’s becoming more and more difficult for debt collectors to make contact with debtors. Debt collection agencies are now resorting to new “friendly” methods of tracking down debtors and social networking is proving to be one of the easiest ways.
Debt collectors are using social networking sites to search for debtors by name and attempt to be their “friend”. Once your profile is accessible, an abundance of personal information can be exposed.
Most social networking profiles will include the person’s place of employment. This information can be valuable to creditors who would like to see that you are indeed working and where. They will attempt to use this information to contact you or other people at your workplace or try to enforce wage garnishments.
People who actively post information about their day-to-day routine make it even easier for the collectors to track them down. Posts like, “Home for the Night” give creditors the best opportunity to catch the debtor at home.
Debt collectors are inevitably told that the debtor cannot afford to make payments. Posts bragging about shopping sprees, large purchases, an inheritance, or mobile uploads with photos from your Caribbean vacation will only decrease the sympathy of the collector and will alert them to check more thoroughly into your assets.
Even with a “Private” profile, debt collectors can still learn plenty about you by browsing through your friend list. This can often give them an idea of where you are currently living or it could lead them to your spouse who may be considered liable for your debt as well.
Before you panic, there are rules that debt collectors must follow. Here’s a couple of important ones:
Debt collectors cannot post harassing comments on your wall.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which was passed long before the Internet, prohibits collection agencies from sending postcards via mail, calling it an infringement of the debtor’s privacy. Applying that law to social media makes it illegal for collectors to post a message on a social networking wall.
Debt collectors cannot pretend to be someone else.
It is a violation of the FDCPA for collectors to misrepresent themselves. Most social networking sites also consider misrepresentation or pretending to be someone else a violation of their terms of service. If you feel someone is misrepresenting themselves, report them to the social networking site.
Beyond these guidelines, there is a giant grey area for what is and isn’t allowed. The Federal Trade Commission recently organized a workshop with representatives from the collection industry and consumer groups as well as government officials to discuss the impact of new technology on debt collection practices. The Association of Credit and Debt Collection Professionals is being proactive in requesting that new policies for mobile phones, email and social networking be initiated. No further action has been announced yet. In the meantime, the newly-established Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can be a resource to consumers who feel they’ve been illegally tracked down or harassed.
This doesn’t mean you have to be anti-Social. But, you should safeguard your online socializing by knowing who you’re friending, resisting the urge to overshare, and knowing your rights when it comes to debt collection practices.