Can debt collectors contact you on social media? Although these communication platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, spawned by the internet have been in use for several years now, there is a lack of clarity about how debt collectors can use them to interact with consumers.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act from 1977 is the primary law that lays out how debt collectors can interact with consumers in a fair-spirited way that doesn’t violate the latter’s rights. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, taking note of the fact that a lot has changed in the world since the FDCPA went into effect, has updated this law to better reflect society’s use of newer communication technologies, such as text messages, voicemail and social media. The updated law will go into effect in 2021.
In a blog post, CFPB Director Kathleen Kraninger noted, “The rule clarifies how debt collectors can use email, text messages, social media and other contemporary methods to communicate with consumers. And our rule will allow consumers, if they prefer, to limit the ability of debt collectors to communicate with them through these newer communication methods.”
The same rules of the road apply
Although the media of communication have changed, the update will hold to the spirit of the original FDCPA. Even though it is much easier to reach someone via electronic media, with its possibilities for instant communication, debt collectors have to still hold off on oppressive behavior and can’t use social media to harass or abuse you.
The update also “generally restates the FDCPA’s prohibitions regarding false, deceptive or misleading representations or means and unfair or unconscionable means,” the CFPB clarifies.
While the consumer agency expects that the update will give consumers greater control in communicating with debt collectors, consumer advocates don’t see it that way.
In a joint release put out by a group of consumer advocates, Christine Hines, legislative director at the National Association of Consumer Advocates, noted “Through the guise of modernization, the debt collection rule could open the gate for collectors to aggravate vulnerable consumers with even more harassment and a flood of electronic communications.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) also noted in a media release that the updated rule “unfairly puts the burden on consumers to ‘opt out’ of harassing text, email and social media messages.”
However, ACA International, a trade group for debt collectors, welcomes this widening of communication channels. In a media release, ACA CEO Mark Neeb said, “Consumers in the collections process deserve to be on a level playing field with others in the financial services marketplace with recognition of their preference to use email and text messaging over other outdated methods, such as faxes, as outlined in the current law.”
While the final rule does not rule out debt collectors from initiating contact with consumers via social media private messages, the CFPB advises that debt collectors using electronic communications to contact consumers should provide the latter “a reasonable and simple method to opt out of such communications.”
You could also respond to a debt collector using electronic communications to ask them to stop their communications.
How debt collectors can’t get social with you
Although debt collectors can message you on social media, they can’t deceive you. For instance, the Federal Trade Commission advises that a debt collector cannot send you a “friend” request on Facebook without disclosing upfront that they are a debt collector.
They also can’t use social media to trick your associates into revealing information about you. For instance, they can’t use a false Facebook account to “friend” your contacts and find out from them about your location or assets.
When a debt collector contacts you initially, they will also have to disclose that they are a debt collector and that they will use any information you give them to collect on your debt. They can’t make public posts on social media that would give your social network information about your indebtedness.
How to safeguard your social media from debt collectors
If you are behind on a debt, there are steps you could take to safeguard your information from debt collectors on social media. According to Lemberg Law:
Act on the assumption that a debt collector is watching your social media
Don’t post information about your employment, location or financial situation
Save any communications you get from a debt collector in case you need to use this input as evidence