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Is Facebook fair game in debt collection?

Feb 02, 2013 Philip Burgess

Is Facebook fair game in debt collection?

Social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter might seem like prime sources for alternative contact to debt collection agencies, but is reaching out over these mediums legal? For the time being, many uses of social media are okay to use in debt collection practices. With that though, there are new restrictions under development that consumer credit data companies should be aware of.

The green lights

Debt collection expert Michelle Dunn says going as far as creating false social media profiles is legal. With that, her word of advice is to stay away from the gray area of actual impersonation.

"Don't pretend you're someone you're not. There shouldn't be any interaction," she told U.S. News.

Dunn says a default photo of an attractive woman should be all that covert debt collectors need to get a friend request. Going to such lengths is typically necessary only after a consumer has avoided the collections agency by traditional means, and so can be steered clear of in many cases. Still, strategies offered by social media technology provide a rich source of information to companies.

With the pool of social media sites online today, debt collectors looking for alternative credit data can almost always find a little more online than what they have. Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook are just some of the places where consumers may share personal contact information.

Assuming boundaries
Despite the lack of strict and well-known social media laws, individuals planning to proceed with online strategies should be aware that the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is working to form federal regulations in regards to consumer-collections contact via the web.

The CFPB plans to accept formal consumer grievances in April of this year. Debt collection has been made a priority of this branch as well as the FTC, especially in the case of further accessibility to consumers, as director of the CFPB Richard Cordray estimated in October that 10 percent of all citizens consider debt as a major threat to U.S. well-being.

This year will mark the first time these federal agencies hone in on the limits of social media use in debt collection practices, so it is suggested that such businesses stick to the usual ways of contacting consumers. On the other hand, those individuals at risk of credit problems are being further educated about what information and actions to avoid on social media platforms.