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Collection Agencies Using Facebook & other Social Media to Harass You

April 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Business, Featured, Finances, Laws, Money, News

“Don’t post pictures of the new speed boat you just purchased or the great vacation you just took, and then tell the debt collector you’re broke and don’t have any money to pay them,” McClary advises. “If you’re caught in a bold-faced lie, you could be fast-tracking your way to court.”
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Herb Weisbaum, msnbc.com contributor reports that: Bill collectors have upped their game. They’ve added social media to their arsenal of tools. That’s right, they’re on Facebook, too!
“Normally, collectors use social media to locate people or see if there are any assets that might be collectable,” notes Joel Winston with the Federal Trade Commission. “But we have received a few complaints about collectors who are using social media to either impersonate the person’s friends or otherwise use it for harassment.”
For debt collectors who don’t want to play by the rules, social media can be a powerful way to badger someone. They can post messages that let the world know you owe a debt — a clear violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.


Florida attorney Billy Howard, head of the consumer protection department at the law firm of Morgan & Morgan, calls social media “a dangerous weapon” that some debt collectors use to deliberately harass people.
“They’re using Facebook because it adds that extra shock value. The more shocking, the more harassing, the more outrageous, the more these debt collectors get paid,” Howard says. “What makes it so dangerous is you can contact somebody’s family and friends very quickly and very easily, and you can set off a domino effect of panic that can be devastating.”
That’s what Melanie Beacham of Tampa, Fla., said happened to her. Beacham fell behind in her car payments by $362. To collect the debt, MarkOne Financial called and called. They also sent e-mail and text messages.
Then, for some reason, MarkOne started using Beacham’s Facebook account. They contacted friends and family members, asking them to have her call the company.
“I was irate,” Beacham recalls. “I didn’t want anyone to be in my personal financial business. It was very disturbing. It was hurtful. It was just horrible.”
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Beacham points out that not only had she agreed to a payment plan before MarkOne turned to Facebook, but they clearly knew how to contact her. They had her home and work phone numbers, they knew where she lived and they had her e-mail address.
“Facebook should be off limits,” she tells me.
Beecham hired Howard, who sued MarkOne, claiming violations of both federal and Florida law. The complaint states that MarkOne has a corporate policy to contact individuals and their friends and family using Facebook “as a means to harass consumers and their families.”
The lawsuit is still pending. But last month, a judge in Pinellas County, Fla., ordered MarkOne not to contact Beacham, her friends or family via Facebook or any other social networking site. The order (which MarkOne agreed to) is not an admission of any wrongdoing, and it cannot be used as evidence in the case.
Even so, Howard considers it a victory. He tells me this is the first ruling in the country where a judge has specifically banned a debt collector from using social media. Howard calls it “a big win” for Melanie Beacham and people across the country who want to protect their right of privacy.
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Three weeks ago, Howard filed a second lawsuit against MarkOne. Another woman in the Tampa area claims the company “intentionally harassed and abused” her by using Facebook to request she call them, even though they had her phone number and knew where she lived and worked.
What does MarkOne have to say about all of this? I spoke to Walter Riehemann, the company’s general counsel, who told me they do not comment on pending litigation.
Social media isn’t totally off limits Debt collectors can and do use the Internet to find people who owe money. What you have posted for public consumption on your Facebook or MySpace page, such as contact information, is fair game for anyone to see and use. So think about what you post, and use the tools available on your social media platforms to protect your privacy.

Bruce McClary with ClearPoint Credit Counseling Solutions says it’s important that what you post on your site matches what you tell debt collectors.
“Don’t post pictures of the new speed boat you just purchased or the great vacation you just took, and then tell the debt collector you’re broke and don’t have any money to pay them,” McClary advises. “If you’re caught in a bold-faced lie, you could be fast-tracking your way to court.”
ACA International is the trade association that represents third-party collection agencies. Mark Schiffman, the group’s director of public affairs, tells me they advise their members about “the perils of using social media” and how careful they must be to follow both state and federal law.


“You can’t write on someone’s wall on Facebook. You can’t harass. You can’t threaten. The laws are pretty clear in that regard,” Schiffman says. “These laws are not guidelines: They are laws. And we believe firmly that any debt collector who is breaking the law or not following the rules, deserves to be held accountable for their actions.”
Is it time to rewrite the rules for fair debt collection?
On April 28, the Federal Trade Commission will host Debt Collection 2.0, a daylong public workshop in Washington, D.C., that focuses on the new technologies of debt collection. One of the panels will be on the use of social media. And attorney Billy Howard will be there.
When the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was written (back in 1977), e-mail, social networks and text messaging were not issues because they didn’t exist. This technology gives debt collectors more ways to contact people. Does the law need to be modernized to deal with this?
For instance, should collectors be able to use text messaging? Remember, some people will pay the cost of that message. The issue is, when does the use of these new means of communication cross the line and become harassment?
“It’s sort of a grey area right now,” says the FTC’s Joel Winston. “That’s something we certainly want to explore.”

These practices are off limits for debt collectors:
Harassment:

Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:

Use threats of violence or harm.

Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies).
Use obscene or profane language.
Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
False statements:

Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:

Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives.
Falsely claim that you have committed a crime.
Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company.
Misrepresent the amount you owe.
Indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t.
Indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.

Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:

You will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt.
They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so.
Legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.

About The Federal Trade Commission: As a consumer or business person, you may be more familiar with the work of the Federal Trade Commission than you think.

The FTC deals with issues that touch the economic life of every American. It is the only federal agency with both consumer protection and competition jurisdiction in broad sectors of the economy. The FTC pursues vigorous and effective law enforcement; advances consumers’ interests by sharing its expertise with federal and state legislatures and U.S. and international government agencies; develops policy and research tools through hearings, workshops, and conferences; and creates practical and plain-language educational programs for consumers and businesses in a global marketplace with constantly changing technologies.

When the FTC was created in 1914, its purpose was to prevent unfair methods of competition in commerce as part of the battle to “bust the trusts.” Over the years, Congress passed additional laws giving the agency greater authority to police anticompetitive practices. In 1938, Congress passed a broad prohibition against “unfair and deceptive acts or practices.” Since then, the Commission also has been directed to administer a wide variety of other consumer protection laws, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the Pay-Per-Call Rule and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. In 1975, Congress gave the FTC the authority to adopt industry-wide trade regulation rules. The FTC’s work is performed by the Bureaus of Consumer ProtectionCompetition and Economics. That work is aided by the Office of General Counsel and seven regional offices

For More Information:

To learn more about debt collection and other credit-related issues, visit www.ftc.gov/credit and MyMoney.gov, the U.S. government’s portal to financial education.

The FTC works to prevent fraud deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at ftc.gov/video to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.


Sources: msn.comhttp://ftc.gov

Editor’s Note: Collection practices have change with the new technology as you may remember in the past some agencies will go to your home and take goods from you, now they need to keep up with technology but yes they need to not break the rules.