The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act took effect in 1978 as a way to protect consumers from abusive debt collection practices. At the time this landmark legislation was created, few could imagine that in just 35 years, social media such as Facebook and Twitter would be an important presence in the daily lives of people in Erie County and elsewhere.
Yet people now share a wealth of information online, and debt collectors also use social media, sometimes in ways that harass consumers and potentially violate consumer protection laws. Some of these practices have resulted in lawsuits against debt collection agencies.
How Debt Collectors Use Facebook
The FDCPA does not prohibit the practice of a debt collector using Facebook to discover a debtor’s location. Traditionally, debt collectors used the contact information on loan documents. Debt collectors often turn to social media to find contact information when a consumer does not respond or the contact information is not correct, according to the president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com.
Unfortunately for consumers, the practices of some debt collectors extend beyond merely looking for information. A veteran debt collector says some debt collection agencies create false Facebook profiles and attempt to friend debtors, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune. Using the false profile, debt collectors can directly contact debtors online. Facebook sometimes bans debt collectors who are caught using this practice. In addition, some state laws prohibit online impersonations.
While the FDCPA does not specifically prohibit debt collectors who take actions such as posting private information on a Facebook wall or using Twitter to contact a debtor’s followers, some consumer advocates and attorneys say these actions violate the intent of the statute, which is to prevent debt collectors from compromising debtors’ privacy. At some point, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission may offer guidance, according to news reports.
Asserting Consumer Rights Against Abusive Debt Collection Practices
In some cases, consumers are fighting back to stop debt collectors who take things too far. In one recent lawsuit, a debt collector is accused of using information from social media to manipulate a debtor into paying a debt. According to the Huffington Post, the complaint alleges that a debt collector contacted the debtor multiple times in a rude and threatening manner. The collector threatened to file a lawsuit and interfere with the debtor’s business and indicated that he had personal information about the debtor from a social media outlet.
The lawsuit alleges that the debt collector indicated that he had obtained personal information about the debtor from a social media outlet. He disclosed the fact that he knew the debtor had recently returned from vacation and had children. The debt collector called the debtor’s fiancé and said he planned to sue the debtor, which if proven would be a clear violation of the FDCPA’s prohibition against communicating with third parties about a consumer’s debt.
The FDCPA Gives Consumers Rights
If debt collectors are attempting to collect a debt from you, the FDCPA requires them to refrain from practices that are considered abusive. In addition to not disclosing your debt to third parties, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from engaging in harassing or oppressive conduct, from making false or misleading statements or using unfair or unconscionable means to collect debts.
If you have been subjected to this or other abusive treatment by a debt collector, you have rights under the FDCPA. A Buffalo consumer protection attorney can explain your rights and what you can do to hold debt collectors accountable.