3/13/2012 6:16 PM ET|
Facebook, a debt collector’s friend
Your friends aren't the only ones checking out what you reveal on social media. Privacy settings can help, but they are not the whole answer.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was designed to protect consumers against abusive practices by the debt collection industry. But when FDCPA took effect in 1978, few people could have anticipated how Facebook and Twitter would infiltrate our daily lives. In recent years, a handful of lawsuits by consumers who were contacted by collectors through social media have brought the issue to light.
One strategy collection agencies use, according to Michelle Dunn, a 24-year veteran of the debt-collection industry and the author of "The Guide to Getting Paid": setting up a fake profile and using it to try to friend someone (a few states have laws against online impersonation)."If you look like a really good-looking girl, a lot of people would accept a friendship even if they don't really know the person," she explains. Dunn says she discourages this practice in her Web-based seminars on social media and debt collection. "I just tell them to use common sense," she says. "Don't pretend you're someone you're not. There shouldn't be any interaction."
FDCPA doesn't explicitly forbid collectors from, say, posting on your Facebook wall or tweeting your relatives to ask about your whereabouts. But according to Craig Thor Kimmel, a consumer attorney in Ambler, Pa., the act's intent is clear. "A debt collector that posts about your debt on social media would be violating this statute very clearly because that privacy is compromised," he says.
Despite this, collectors can use information found on a social network to contact you in other ways. "Right now, the normal pre-social media method would be to use the address off the loan documents and statements, but if the consumer is unwilling to respond to the contacts or is at a different location, they can certainly use social media as way of finding the consumer," says John Ulzheimer, the president of Consumer Education at SmartCredit.com.
Experts suggest the following strategies to pre-empt unwanted calls or other communication from collectors:
1. Respond within 30 days of receiving a collection letter. For many people who receive a letter from a collection agency, the impulse is to bury their heads and ignore it. That's a mistake, according to Ulzheimer. "You can eliminate all communication," he says. "All you have to do is send them a letter within 30 days and tell them, 'Do not contact me anymore through any method.' They can still sue you for the debt, so the act of collecting doesn't necessarily stop, but they can't send you emails or call you anymore."
If you actually owe the debt, he suggests offering a settlement so that it doesn't continue to follow you. Third-party agencies that have purchased the debt "don't have the same skin in the game as the original creditor, so you could offer some sort of reasonable settlement and be done with it."
2. Use those privacy settings. Dunn said she's shocked by the number of users whose Facebook profiles are set to completely public. "Even though I'm not your friend, I can see all your pictures," she says. Setting your profile to private reduces the likelihood that a collector has access to your wall or photos.
3. Be selective about what you post. Social networks like Facebook can create a false sense of intimacy because you're communicating with friends. Even with a private profile, your friends' accounts could still get hacked or someone could be peeking over their shoulder, so it's smart to err on the side of privacy.
Dunn says collectors use social media profiles to "look for the address or employment information. A lot of people put what their occupation is, where they work, cellphone numbers." For instance, when someone gets a new cellphone number, they'll sometimes post it on Facebook so friends can reach them. "I have to say if I was somebody who owed money, I probably wouldn't put (my cell number) online and make it public information," adds Dunn.
Most people know not to post their Social Security or credit card numbers, but many list a birth date. "To me, that's comical," says Ulzheimer. "If someone walked up to you off the street and asked your birth date, would you give it on the street? But you're gladly doing it on Facebook."
4. Don't accept friend requests from strangers. For reasons described earlier, don't approve requests from people you don't know. It could be a friend of a friend, but it could also be a collector or spammer.
5. Skip the "like" button. Liking your bank or credit card issuer on Facebook may open the door to the company collecting information about you that you haven't given them. "How many people actually like their bank?" ponders Ulzheimer. "To the extent that you like your bank, that's fine, but I'm not sure that you have to memorialize that by clicking that you like it on Facebook."
If, despite these steps, a collector contacts you via a social media site, Kimmel suggests printing out the message or saving a screen shot to your computer to create a paper trail. "Once you have that, report the sender as spam on Facebook and file a grievance with the Federal Trade Commission," he suggests. The consumer could be entitled to up to $1,000 plus legal fees and actual damages "if a debt collector engages in unauthorized debt collection contact, through, for example, social media," says Kimmel, adding that a consumer attorney could help the person seek redress.
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I had a debt collector show up at my house a few months ago looking for the daughter of the former owners. She gave me some BS story about how she was a friend and had hoped to catch this girl at home. Yeah right, since you're at least 50 and the girl would be 24, and, oh, her parents sold the house to me 13 years ago. If you were a friend, you'd know that. She then started asking me questions, did I know where to find this kid or her parents, where was her last know address and such. No I don't know and I don't care because she's not my responsibility.
I shut the door in the woman's face when she started asking me for my name and how long I've lived in the house and where I worked. Answer: None of your F*****G business.
I use social media every day. I have friends form around the world and FB is the easiest way to keep in touch with them. I don't accept a friends request from people I don't know. If I haven't met you in person, I'm not friending you. I don't list any personal info on my FB profile, including my birthday, hometown, employment information, education, relationship status or anything else that can identify me. I have a photo that I use as a profile picture but there are other people in it so you have to know me to know which person is me. All of my settings are private and photos are friends only.
If someone walked up to me on the street and asked me if I was so and so, my answer would be "who are you and why do you want to know?" Yes its not very friendly, but I don't trust people, because I've been screwed over one too many times. Being cautious and suspicious may not be for everyone, but it makes me a much less attractive target for criminals.
I am so against debt collectors with any form of attempt. The only person who you are responsible for paying is the original creditor with whom you have signed. Even if someone skips paying the original creditor for a short period, then starts paying the original creditor again sometimes a collection agent tries to sneak in to collect payment plus a small fee for their service. The collection agency's service was never requested, in addition the agency never obtains your signature or sends a letter stating they have bought your debt from the original creditor to see if you agree with paying them rather than the original creditor. You do not have to pay collection agents only the original creditor, no matter how much either may say otherwise. Furthermore only the original creditor can report to the credit bureaus, although collection agents will but they can be removed with a dispute times two or one properly written dispute. That makes me think of another problem why do we allow the credit bureaus to obtain our personal information, they never asked permission to keep it or disclose to others.
I never joined facebook...
Saw how much time my friends wasted on it...
Another good reason not to join...bill collectors..?
So, I changed my number - Fat lot of good that did. So now I have an answering machine that screens all calls. In Spanish.
Cry on Jose's shoulder, bungholes.
I used to have a job. I used to have perfect credit. Then I lost my job, could not even get temp work. Sent so many resumes to agencies that I lost track and only got a handful of interviews, and guess what, no job. Tried to find ANY job just for income, but no luck there either.
My son has screwed up his credit by not paying his bills, guess what? All of the debt collectors are constantly calling my house wanting to speak with my son. Tired of all their **** tactics and telling them he does not live with me and giving them his cell number only brings relief until the next collection company comes a calling.
Now will I have to worry about Facebook too? Pieces of ****, every collection agency out there. I know they are trying to collect on debts but please go after the right people and leave us innocents alone. By the way..................my credit score is over 800, but collection agencies don't care about your score, only in getting info on how to contact the person who does owe.
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