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Debt collectors must follow certain rules when contacting social media users

Mar 31, 2011 Kyle Duncan

Social media is often used by people as a way to connect with old friends and relatives, or perhaps share photos from a special event with a small network of those in a social circle. But in recent years people have been using networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn to track down those in debt. Debt collectors have been "friending" people who owe money on these sites to find out information and contact them about overdue bills. In a recent interview with WPRI-TV, Ann Walter, a debt counselor in Warwick, Rhode Island, said that more and more agencies are using the tactics to help find people. She points out that it is against the law for the people to post a message on someone's wall saying that they are a debt collector. Under the law, debt collectors can say that they are trying to get in contact with you and may also post messages on the walls of the person's Facebook friends for identification purposes. "I think we're going to see more of this nationwide," Walter told the news station. "They wouldn't be able to reveal why they're contacting you or that you owe money to anyone but you. " The government agency tasked with overseeing debt collection practices, the Federal Trade Commission, has released guidelines that seek to deal with practices in the relatively new medium. "Generally, a debt collector can use information it finds to locate a debtor, including information found on social networking sites," the FTC said in a statement. "A collector can call a debtor's employer to find out how to locate the debtor, but can't reveal to the employer that the call is to collect a debt. A collector can't call the debtor at work if the collector knows, or should know, that the debtor's employer doesn’t allow such calls. If debtors don't want to be called at work, they should avoid disclosing work contact information on social networking sites." The FTC made other debt collection news when it released its annual Fair Debt Collection Practices Act report for 2010. The report, which was released to Congress, found that complaints regarding third-party debt collection and in-house creditors totaled 140,036 and accounted for 27 percent of all complaints, a higher number than in 2009.