In this digital age, every aspect of life is now connected to our online world. Indeed, even many debt collection cases now spring from Social Media sites: and the most popular of these is Facebook. These social media sites provide an opportunity for debt collectors to obtain information about consumers whom the collectors would otherwise not be able to reach.
Since there is no way to find out if the person who sent you a friend request is sending with a genuine interest, many social media users accept friend requests from those they do not know. Users assume that if they do not like a new “friend,” they can simply undo the connection. But by that point, the harm may already be done.
Debt collectors lie in order to become consumer’s online “friends.” They can then obtain personal and contact information, and even send direct communications about the debt over Facebook and other social media. Last year alone there were several cases where consumers complained of debt collectors harassing them by communicating through their Facebook accounts.
In a recent case in the Midwest, a consumer received a request to be friends, with a woman's photograph in the profile. The consumer accepted this request in all earnestness and faced terrible consequences when his new “friend” – actually a debt collection agency – posted a public message on his wall - “ Pay your debts.”
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) came into existence in 1978 to address the many complaints the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) was receiving about debt collection harassment. The FDCPA laws did not have a provision for Facebook as, at that time, social media sites did not yet exist. However, in the Facebook or other social media site cases, todays judges have nonetheless applied the protections of the FDCPA to these new media.
In a recent social media case, for example, an Orlando court ruled that a debt collector used Facebook to unlawfully harass a debtor. The Orlando court did not change its decision though the debt collector argued that social media sites are not covered under the FDCPA.
Some debt collection agencies have also violated the FDCPA by disclosing the existence of a debt to all of the debtors' friends in his Facebook “friends” list by posting on the debtors' walls. In Florida, a debt collector even used Facebook to tell debtor's family and friends to have her call him for a debt she owed.
The misuse of social media sites is still a relatively new method of debt collection harassment. By using false identities, disclosing information to debtors' friends and family, and publicly shaming a consumer, debt collectors face liability under the FDCPA. Though the FDCPA does not have a provision for Facebook, collectors still violate the Act when they harass debtors through a social media site.