Remember that friend request you accepted last week that you didn’t recognize? It could be a debt collector looking to collect on that delinquent credit card. Is this considered abusive as set out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act? Maybe – but it’s a very fine line.
Not Who You Think it Is
While there are several states that make it illegal to present oneself as anyone other than who they are, there’s no guarantee those laws will protect a consumer. Not only that, but many of these laws designed to ensure abusive practices aren’t occurring are antiquated. They were written in the late 1970s and, of course, there was no such thing as Facebook and Twitter. Debt collectors are taking advantage of this loophole.
Even if you don’t accept friend requests from strangers, it’s important to keep in mind your online presence can provide a host of information that debt collectors can seek out and then take advantage of.
There are several methods credit card companies, banks and collection agencies can use. If there’s any information that can be gleaned from your Facebook profile, such as your cell number (which many leave “searchable” so that legitimate friends can find a profile), a company can begin calling this new phone number it might not have had before.
Soup, Salad and Debt
Also, many of us “check in” at different places throughout the day. Imagine checking in at the lunch counter near work only to have an aggressive collector approach you while you’re waiting for your soup and sandwich. Same goes for your photos – if you’re posting photos every Monday morning of time spent at your favorite night club, you might find yourself being hunted on the dance floor.
If you’re ignoring phone calls and letters, the last thing you want to receive is an email sent through a social media website. Ignoring efforts of these collectors is never recommended anyway and if that’s how you’re handling your financial problems, now’s the time to rethink your methods.
If you’ve changed jobs and updated your Facebook profile, a creditor can then begin contacting you at that new job. This, of course, is the worst possible way to start your new employment.
A creditor can “match” your loan application with the profiles of others – such as your children. If you have three dependents, that generally means at least two of those dependents are your children. Using your last name and the city you reside, a collector can search out others in your community with the same last name. From there, they can attempt to use the profiles they find as a way of getting to you. That’s not to say a collection agency will contact your eleven year old and ask him to pass a message along to you, but they can look for tidbits of information that can help them in their efforts of making contact especially if their current methods aren’t working.
As mentioned, there are laws – and they vary from one state to another – that fall short in addressing the new technological age. Because of that, much of the law is open to interpretation when it comes to Twitter, Facebook and other sites. There are no clauses that make it illegal to post on your Facebook wall, unless the post reveals anything at all about your financial goings-on. That is definitely in violation of privacy laws.
Currently, there are several lawsuits pending where consumers are suing creditors for crossing the line. These pending suits aren’t likely to be settled soon, partly because of the subjective text in the law.
Why Handling Your Business is Crucial
A creditor making efforts to penetrate your circle of Facebook friends is bad enough, but if an aggressive and unethical collection agency crosses the line and breaks the law with a revealing wall post, the embarrassment is sure to be horrifying. That may never happen (and if it does, be sure and document it via print out and then file a complaint with the FTC) but it’s a bell you can’t unring once it’s hit the newsfeed. The collection agency could be held financially responsible with fines from various government agencies, including the FTC. You might also have your own legal avenues you could pursue.
Your best bet is to incorporate those privacy settings. They’re there for a reason and the vulnerability of an account that’s set to public isn’t worth your online presence. Also, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. You have no idea if that person has ulterior motives. Assume nothing and accept no one who you don’t recognize. While that’s easier to do on Facebook than it is on Twitter (people can follow you without requesting beforehand), it’s important to remain vigilant in your efforts.