Social media has become a tool for people to meet, reconnect and/or communicate with significant others, relatives, business associates and friends. Many don’t know that debt collectors are also taking advantage of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to locate debtors. In his article, Debt Collectors Faulted for Using Facebook, Mike Nixon writes, “For businesses attempting to locate people who may have skipped out on a loan or accumulated bad debt, the idea of using the World Wide Web seems both expedient and cost effective, especially when it comes to individuals who make their presence known on social media websites.” However, debt collectors that use social media to locate debtors must comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and state laws or be held accountable.
Unfortunately, some debt collectors have gone too far, using social media sites like Facebook in ways that clearly violate FDCPA. For example, Ben Popken’s article, Debt Collectors Using Cute Chicks on Facebook As Bait, details CBV Collections’ practice of employing young attractive women to friend debtors in an attempt to collect. One woman friended over 600 debtors on Facebook before posting “haha you guys i tricked you all my name is actually Emily and i work for cbv collections as a skip tracer i bet you guys got calls from them saying you owe money thats all my doing you want to call and bitch? i dare you to call me 604-[redacted]!!! I wait to hear from you ”
Recently in Florida, Melanie Beacham sued debt collection agency MarkOne Financial LLC alleging they violated the FDCPA when they contacted her and her family members on Facebook to recover a $362 car loan, even though they already had her contact information. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors may only contact other people to find out the debtor’s contact information, which MarkOne already had. In fact they had been calling Beacham up to 10 times a day. In that case, Judge W. Douglas Baird ordered MarkOne not to contact Melanie Beacham’s family or friends on Facebook or other social media sites.
According to Alexis Madrigal’s article, Facebook Warns Debt Collectors About Using Its Service, Facebook does not appreciate debt collectors using its site in this way. In a statement to Madrigal, Facebook said, “There are state and federal laws and FTC regulations that govern the actions of debt collectors. The collector in the [Beacham] case likely violates a number of these laws and regulations and we encourage the victim to contact the FTC and her state Attorney General. In addition, Facebook policies prohibit any kind of threatening, intimidating, or hateful contact from one user to another. We encourage people to report such behavior to us, only accept friend requests from people that they know, and use privacy settings and our blocking feature to prevent unwanted contact.” Nevertheless, there is very little Facebook can do to prevent debt collector from using its site as a standard debt collecting tool.
Although Mike Nixon wrote that contacting debtors via social media violates the 1978 Fair Debt Collection Practices, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the American Credit and Collections Association (ACA) disagree. However, in order to use these resources, collectors must still comply with the FDCPA and state regulations. In her article, Debt Collectors’ Newest Weapon: Facebook, Kate Rogers lists 5 limitations that collectors must abide by. (1) Creditors can never contact a debtor under false pretenses or conceal their true identity. Creditors must disclose who they are and that they are attempting to collect debt. (2) While creditors can contact third parties to locate a debtor, they cannot disclose that they are trying to collect a debt. Once the debtor is located, third party contact must stop. Besides that, creditors are only allowed to contact the debtor, the debtor’s attorney, the debtor’s spouse and any co-signers. (3) Creditors are to provide debtors with notice of the debt (i.e. who is owed; the amount owed, and the owed party’s contact information) in writing. (4) Creditors can not contact debtors at work if a debtor asks them not to. (5) Debtors have the right to ask creditors to stop contacting them. However, this forces the collector to bring suit to collect the debt. Thus, while creditors can use social media to locate and contact debtors, creditors may not publicly identify themselves as debt collectors, and they may not disclose that they are attempting to collect a debt. Nor can they make false or misleading representations in an effort to collect a debt.
Regulations, as usual, are slow to catch up with technology. In her article, Debt Collectors and Generation Facebook, Anita Tolani writes, “A debt collection agency must comply with federal and state regulations that are archaic to this Facebook generation.” In response to this growing concern, the FTC is holding a free workshop on April 28 entitled Debt Collection 2.0: Protecting Consumers as Technologies Change where consumer advocates, government officials, and other authorities will explore the impact of technological advances on consumer debt collection. The workshop which takes place in Washington DC is open to the public and will also be webcast.
If you owe money remember that any information you post online can be used by creditors to collect the debt, however you do have rights. Debt collectors cannot harass consumers and must comply with the FDCPA and state laws or be held accountable for their actions. For general questions consult AskDoctorDebt.com (available in English and Spanish) which was created by the ACA Professionals Education Foundation to provide free and unbiased answers to consumers’ debt questions. If you’ve been harassed by a debt collector or debt buyer, save their messages and contact an experienced debtors’ rights attorney to discuss your situation and evaluate your options.
To learn more about Beacham please read:
To learn more about using social media to collect debt please read:
To learn more about Debtors’ rights, please read: