Debt Collectors Cruise Facebook

Feb 4, 2013 by

FTC Building

FTC Building in D.C.

Many debt collectors would have no compunction about contacting your family members, employer, and friends to let them know—directly or by implication—that you owe money you’re not repaying. Now they’re bringing this strategy to social media. But might they be breaking the law in doing so?

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

First, some background. Debt collectors have historically behaved so badly that Congress enacted legislation—the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)—to give consumers abused by a debt collector a legal remedy. Among other things the FDCPA includes these prohibitions:

  • A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it.
  • Collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.
  • In working to collect your debt, a collector may contact other people, but only to learn your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.
  • Collectors may not contact you by postcard.
  • A debt collector may not harass, make false statements, claim you’ll be arrested if you don’t pay, or lots of other commonly used tactics.

But the FDCPA was written long before even Mark Zuckerberg’s birth. Do its prohibitions apply to Facebook and Twitter communications, for example? This question and others are the subjects of evolving case law as debt collectors push into modern communication frontiers. In one Florida case now before the courts, debt collection agency MarkOne used a woman’s Facebook account to contact her friends and family, asking them to have her contact the company. The woman has sued MarkOne.

Today’s Hip Debt Collector May Have Abandoned the Telephone

Do your Facebook settings allow Friends to post on your timeline? Then be careful who you ‘friend.’ That friend request may actually be a debt collector impersonating a normal person. Agree to the friendship and all of your FB friends may soon be aware—through posts on your timeline—of your delinquency on that debt you owe. Or how would you feel about receiving messages from debt collectors in your Facebook message in-box?

And how tough is it for someone to discover your Twitter handle? Even the Neanderthal types who tend toward careers in debt collection are bright enough to tweet: “Hey Twitterverse: If you know @KurtFischer57, ask him to contact George at Debts-R-Us immediately about his account.” What would you do if such a tweet appeared in your Twitter mentions?

How to Complain About Debt Collection Tactics

As of January, the relatively new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken over regulating most debt collectors. The CFPB is working on new regulations that, we can hope, will update the FDCPA’s provisions to reflect modern reality. If you feel you’re being harassed or treated unfairly by a debt collector, there is a sure-fire cure: Pay the debt if you owe it. But also, especially if you can’t pay, submit a complaint to the FTC or CFPB.

What About You?

Have you seen debt collector posts on your friends’ or your own Facebook timeline? Google+? LinkedIn? Have you noticed tweets referencing unpaid debts?

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