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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Debt collectors are checking out your Facebook

Facebook has been in the spotlight for privacy violations
Social media is a means to collect information about people
By John Mediren

Debt collectors are utilizing a new tool to locate people and determine whether debtors have additional assets that may be collectable. Information posted on Facebook and other social media is not only often publicly available but can include photos of new purchases or information about new living situations. But, that's not all: some debt collectors are using social media to badger and harass their debtors.

Social media, public information, and debt collection

Many think that the information they've posted on Facebook and other social media platforms would be off-limits to collections agencies. The truth is that anything you've posted on a public-facing site is fair game for entities trying to track you down with the objective of collecting what they are owed. This can include using Facebook to ascertain your address or other contact info, but they can also take into account large purchases you've made. Owe several thousand on your credit card account, but you posted a picture of your brand new car? If you've lied to a debt collection about being broke, and they can prove otherwise, you may soon find yourself in court. 

But writing on a debtor's Facebook wall or otherwise harassing or threatening debtor's via social media is off limits in the eyes of the law. As you'll see, this doesn't always prevent a collections agency from hounding you on Facebook.

Debt collectors have harassed and embarrassed people online

NBC news tells the story of Melanie Beacham in Florida. A while back, she fell behind on her car payments by $362. MarkOne Financial called her several times, sent e-mails, and even text messages asking her to pay down her debt. With no success, MarkOne turned to Melanie's Facebook account. They didn't just contact Melanie Beacham but actually contacted her friends and family, telling them to please have Beacham get in touch with the company. Beachame, of course “didn't want anyone to be in [her] financial business.” She sued MarkOne, pointing out that not only had she signed a payment plan before MarkOne started to contact her friends list, but they have several more conventional means by which to get in touch with her. While the case is still pending, the ruling that MarkOne abstain from using Facebook to contact Beacham's associates is the first time in the United States where a judge has banned a debt collector from using social media.

It's time to rewrite the rules on fair debt collection

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1977 was a powerful set of guidelines and laws for debt collection agencies, but it was written in a time before social media, text messaging, and e-mails. The question is, should debt collection agencies be allowed to use this technology to contact you? For instance, should a debt collector be able to send you a text message? If so, who is responsible for the consequent charges on your cell phone bill?  And, more important, where, exactly, is the line between debt collection practices that are annoying and those that are outright harassment? 

About the author: John Mediren is a law student from Nevada. If you're in need of bankrupcty tips or debt relief advice, John recommends reading the law blog of Deluca and Associates. John currently lives in Las Vegas.

Image license: DeviantArt, Naesk, CC BY-SA 3.0

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