Financial difficulties can happen to anyone, especially in this economy. One can find themselves quickly and unexpectedly in debt due to bad investments, medical expenses, Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMs), unemployment or any manner of other circumstance.
Once a creditor turns your debt over to a collection agency, that agency will diligently go after as much information as they can find, such as where you work, where you live and your current phone number.
Many collection agencies employ “skip tracers”. Skip Tracers are people who will unearth as much information about you as possible. They’ll go through public records (bankruptcies, marriage licenses, property deeds) to find out where you work in order to garnish your wages. Colorado is a state where a creditor can go through the legal process to garnish wages.
Debt collectors, and especially the skip tracers are, and have been using Facebook and other social media to gain information on a debtor. Creditors pose themselves as someone who wants to ‘friend’ you. One creditor would send a photo of a girl in a bikini asking to ‘friend’. Once ‘friended’ the creditor would then scour the Facebook page getting information on where the debtor worked, hung out, phone numbers and even where he banked and vacationed. There is nothing illegal about gathering information from your Facebook page, or any other social media.
A woman in Florida recently won an unprecedented lawsuit filed against MarkOne Financial for debt-harassment. Allegedly, MarkOne continually sent messages concerning her debt to all the people on her Facebook friends list. A Florida judge put a halt to the phone calls and stopped debt collectors from posting messages about the debt on Facebook walls or sending messages to friends telling the debtor to call the collector.
Never put any information online that you wouldn’t want a stranger to see and don’t friend people you don’t know personally. Adjust your security settings for a select few. Remember the internet can and is, constantly hacked into. Even with the Florida lawsuit, collectors are still using Facebook and other social media by any means available to harass and/or collect information on the debtor.
The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals (ACA) International have stated they caution their members to be careful about using social media to contact people who owe debts. They state their members can’t write on someone’s wall on Facebook, harass or threaten. But, they can still gather important information.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a 1978 statute whose purpose is to eliminate abusive practices in the collection of consumer debt. Although the FDCPA has been amended since 1978, the FDCPA needs to be completely updated to include social media and the internet. In 1978, the internet, social media and email didn’t exist.
U.S. regulators are now considering enacting new federal oversight this year (2013) over the debt collection industry, including the use of using social media.
The FDCPA does allow a debt collector to call your friends and family ‘while attempting to find you’ although the collector can’t discuss your debt with a third party. The debt collector can call you at work unless you inform them their calls are: inconvenient, or their calls place you in jeopardy of losing your job. Put in writing you do not want to be called at work and send to the collector’s home office. This will stop some of the calls.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is our nation’s consumer protection agency. The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection works for the consumer to prevent fraud, deception and unfair business practices in the marketplace. They can enforce federal laws that protect consumers. However, they receive hundreds of thousands of complaints (over 200,000 each month on robo-calls alone). The FTC logs in the complaints to help detect patterns of wrong-doings.
If you are being victimized by deceptive, abusive or greedy business practices, reach out to an attorney for assistance. Hiring an attorney will stop the creditor from contacting you – they will have to contact your attorney. An attorney also has the legal knowledge and experience in dealing and negotiating with creditors.
Keith A. Gantenbein, Jr. is a Colorado a consumer advocate attorney, foreclosure defense and real estate attorney located in Denver and servicing all of Colorado. His foreclosure defense practice includes foreclosure prevention, foreclosure assistance, loan modifications, short sales, and all other foreclosure defense legal assistance. He also handles bankruptcies, mortgage negotiations, lender liability, real estate, civil litigation, debt defense, debt harassment, contracts and landlord/tenant. If you think you will be facing debt collection, foreclosure, or are in the foreclosure process, or have had a wrongful foreclosure, contact Keith Gantenbein at (303) 618-2122 for a one-hour consultation where he will discuss your situation and go over all your options with you.