Because of social media, people are now more connected than ever before.
Sure it might be nice to share your life with family and friends on sites like Facebook. But that also means debt collectors can find you on Facebook as well.
It’s a double-edged sword.
So if you’re having financial difficulties, does that mean that a debt collector can post to your Facebook wall or announce it via Twitter in an attempt to embarrass you about your current situation?
In a word, no.
Mark Schiffman of ACA International (the trade association for collection agencies) says that they caution their members to be very careful about using social media to contact people that might owe money.
“You can’t write on someone’s wall on Facebook. You can’t harass. You can’t threaten. The laws are pretty clear in that regard,” Schiffman says. “These laws are not guidelines: They are laws. And we believe firmly that any debt collector who is breaking the law or not following the rules, deserves to be held accountable for their actions.”
According the the Federal Trade Commission, debt collectors may not …
- Harass or verbally abuse you.
- Publish your name if you’re past due on a debt.
- Falsely claim that they are an attorney or from a government agency.
- State that legal action will be taken if they don’t intend to actually follow through.
Even though the law is pretty clear, some debt collectors still flagrantly disregard the law.
In Florida, attorney Billy Howard is suing a collection agency that has harassed one of his clients via Facebook.
“They’re using Facebook because it adds that extra shock value. The more shocking, the more harassing, the more outrageous, the more these debt collectors get paid,” Howard says. “What makes it so dangerous is you can contact somebody’s family and friends very quickly and very easily, and you can set off a domino effect of panic that can be devastating.”
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the law that specifically states what debt collectors can and cannot do to collect a debt. It’s purpose is to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices.
However, the FDCPA was enacted back in 1977 when social media, email and text messaging didn’t yet exist. Therefore, the FTC has indicated that they might want to revise the FDCPA to include guidelines for technology that didn’t exist 30+ years ago.
In summary, if you’re going through a rough patch financially because you lost your job or some other legitimate reason, that doesn’t mean you have to go into hiding. You’re still allowed to have friends.
Just be smart about whatever information you make available publicly. Because if your friends and family can read it, so can debt collectors.
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