A recent update to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lays out the rules for how debt collectors can engage with consumers on social media.
While social media offers a means of instant communication, enabling quick contact with others, it can also be a nuisance. For instance, a debt collector could see the potential in using social media to get information about a debtor to pursue a debt they owe.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which sets down the rules for how debt collectors can interact with consumers, doesn’t expressly prohibit debt collectors from using social media for interacting with debtors. This law goes back to 1978, when, of course, social media, born of the Internet era, did not exist.
Rules for debt collectors using social media
Considering that the FDCPA does not address the use of recent technologies such as texting and social media by debt collectors, the Consumer Financial Protection Board has overhauled the legislation to address such issues. The new rules went into effect in November 2021 and lay out how debt collectors can make use of social media for contacting debtors.
Firstly, any communication you receive on social media from a debt collector should be visible only to you. It should be a private communication and not one that can be seen by your contacts, friends or the public, for instance.
Secondly, the debt collector should identify themselves as such and can’t “friend” you or follow you under false pretenses.
Thirdly, in case you don’t want them to contact you on social media, you have a choice. They have to provide a means for you to opt out of receiving their communications.
In addition, you have the benefit of typical FDCPA protections that prohibit a debt collector from harassing you. They also can’t contact you at an inconvenient time.
Your rights when a debt collector calls on social media
Now that the genie is out of the bottle and debt collectors may feel more comfortable with social media contact, it’s possible that debtors will hear from them through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or other social media.
You do have some rights in such situations. The Federal Trade Commission advises that:
- Debt collectors can’t get tricky. For instance, they can’t engage with your contacts – by using a false account, for instance – to get information on you.
- They have to make the disclosures required by the FDCPA. When they first contact you, they will have to name the creditor, mention the amount owed, state that you have the right to dispute the debt and, in case the current creditor is different from the original one, provide the name of the original creditor.
- If the debt collector doesn’t make such disclosures when they first contact you, they will have to provide the information in writing within five days of first contact.
Don’t be an easy target
If you are active on social media, you could take steps to prevent yourself from becoming an easy prey for debt collectors. For instance:
- Act on the assumption that debt collectors can access information you post on such sites.
- Accordingly, don’t provide any input that could be a clue to your financial situation.
- If you do have any debt that you are behind on, keep it in mind as you engage in social media interactions.
- Avoid disclosing your location or employment situation.
In today’s climate of instant communications, it is all too easy for debt collectors to gather input on you to better pursue debt. The CFPB has come out with some rules of the road for debt collectors to engage with debtors on social media. While you have certain rights in such situations, you should also be careful and watch what information you reveal on social media.
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