Very few people today do not have some type of social media account, from Facebook to Twitter, Instagram to MySpace. Though most individuals use their social media accounts to stay connected with friends and family, creditors and debt collectors can access these account(s) in an attempt to locate debtors who that allegedly owe money.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) which regulates debt collection laws has not passed any regulations specifically limiting how debt collectors can use social media. However, existing regulations in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibit debt collector harassment and violations of the debtor’s privacy. Even though social media use may not be technically regulated by the FDCPA, many of the actions that debt collectors take on private media are illegal.
For instance, debt collectors are not allowed to disclose a person’s debt to his or her family and acquaintances, and a debt collector may be liable for damages by disobeying the rules in the FDCPA. Debt collectors have contacted a person’s friends, family, and even distant relatives on social media with private messages related to the debt. Employees of debt collectors may use their own private accounts or dummy accounts to “friend” relatives and acquaintances of the person who owes the debt in order to track that person down.
Debt collectors use these tactics because they are embarrassing, and consumers will often pay a debt rather than dispute it to avoid the embarrassment of explaining the debt to family and friends. In some extreme cases, debt collectors have used social media to shame people who owe money by posting public messages for everyone to see. This is a clear violation of the FDCPA.
These tactics are becoming increasingly common across social media platforms. Because fewer people have landlines, it has become more difficult for debt collectors to reach a human being. Additionally, many younger people refuse to answer calls from numbers that they do not recognize and prefer texting to talking on the phone. As a result, many debt collectors have resorted to illegal texts or social media messages to reach the person who owes the debt.
Even if a debt collector doesn’t use social media to message a person, they may still be using the accounts to find that person. They can scan profiles to find information like where a person works, where a person lives, and what type of resources that person has to pay the debt. While this is not illegal per se, people who owe money to debt collectors should be wary of accepting friend requests from people they do not know. Additionally, it is worthwhile to make social media accounts as private as possible to avoid unwanted attention from debt collectors.
If a debt collector has engaged in harassment or abuse over social media, you may be able to file a claim seeking damages under the FDCPA. At Fitzgerald Campbell, our attorneys have decades of experience representing clients in claims against creditors who violate the FDCPA and other debtor’s rights laws, as well as all other types of debtor defense cases.