Third Party Debt Collectors Turn to Social Media to Harass Consumers

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Social media are changing the world of communication, giving you instant access to millions of people around the globe.

But in addition to your friends, family and business associates, cyberspace is filled with people who might not be so friendly. Collection agencies are among them, waiting for your identity to surface so they can track you down, the Associated Press reports.

One man who had been dodging calls about a college loan for a decade thought he had resolved the matter when he hired an attorney and worked out a payment plan. But as the AP reported, after the man’s photo with a TV personality appeared on Facebook, a collection agency began trying to contact him, even calling the restaurant where the picture was taken.

Mark Schiffman, vice president of public affairs for the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals International in Minneapolis, acknowledged that bill collectors create profiles of debtors through a method called “skip tracing,” using information they obtain online.

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act of 1977 and the Florida Consumer Collection Practice Act offer legal protections to consumers, and these protections apply to social media.

The laws:

  • Require full disclosure of the debt collector’s identity and of the intent to collect debt.
  • Prohibit bill collectors from contacting third parties without permission from the debtor or a court, unless the debtor’s location is being sought.
  • Restrict collection agencies from disclosing a person’s debt obligations to third parties and disallows calls before 9 a.m. and after 8 p.m.
  • Prohibit collectors from making contact with debtors who have attorneys handling their cases.
  • Prohibit false or misleading statements, obscene or profane language and threats of violence.

Individual violators can be fined $1,000 per violation, and that money goes to the debtor.

In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection took action on 18 debt-collection cases, issuing injunctions against collection agencies or referring them to the Justice Department. In one case, Expert Global Solutions Inc. received a $3.2 million civil penalty and lifetime ban from collections.

Many Complaints

The Federal Trade Commission received 204,464 complaints about debt collections in 2013, about 1,800 more than the previous year. In most cases, collectors misrepresented information about debt, failed to identify themselves as debt collectors or made repeated calls to third parties. Often, those were friends or family who were listed on borrowing agreements.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau started clarifying debt-collection rules last November and warned financial institutions and collection companies that the rules about collecting debts apply to digital communication.

Get Legal Assistance If You’re Being Harassed by Debt Collectors

As attorneys who represent consumers, we’ve seen third-party debt collection companies use many unethical methods to harass consumers, and increasingly, companies are searching on social media. It’s important for consumers to understand their rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Protection.

If you need help getting a debt collector to stop harassing you, call a law firm experienced in fighting predatory debt collectors. While you should pay your debts, nobody’s life should be made miserable by collection agencies, including those lurking in cyberspace.