Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with friends. Unfortunately, some debt collectors are also using the social network to track down debtors. The practice is becoming so common that it’s even gotten the attention of regulators at the Federal Trade Commission.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was voted into law in 1978 to protect you from being abused by debt collectors. Under the statute, collectors aren’t allowed to contact third parties about your debt. Exceptions include the original creditor, a credit reporting bureau, and your lawyer. A collections agency can contact a third party in cases where they need information about your current location. Also know that a debt collector can contact your spouse, anyone who co-signed the debt, or your parents (if you’re a minor), unless you’ve asked the debt collectors—in writing— to cease all contact. The FTC is still deciding whether contacting debtors on Facebook violates any debt collecting laws. But until that’s been decided, here are a few steps you can take to prevent a debt collector from reaching you this way.
- Only let friends see your information. If you’re concerned about being harassed by a debt collector, only let friends send you messages or post on your wall. Remove all “friends of friends,” options. Also, only let friends see contact information such as your phone number and e-mail address.
- Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. Yes, it’s common sense (for some), but here’s a friendly reminder. Pay attention to your friend requests. Especially from people with unusual Facebook names. Sometimes a debt collector will use an obviously fake name to hide his or her identity. For example, Florida resident Melanie Beacham claimed she was being contacted via Facebook by a debt collector at MarkOne Financial who went by the name Jeff Happenstance. According to a report by WTSP News in Tampa Bay, Florida, she sued the company after she says they repeatedly contacted her and her family members on Facebook, asking for the money she owed. If you don’t know the person making the request, ignore it.
- Remove yourself from Facebook searches. Go even one step further, and remove the option that allows everyone to search for your Facebook profile. This way, if a collections agency is trying to track you down, your profile won’t come up in an Internet search.
- Tell them to stop. If a collector contacts one of your family members on Facebook and asks him or her why you haven’t paid your bill or any other question that is unrelated to your whereabouts, the collector is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Write a letter to the collection agency, telling them to stop all contact.