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Debt Collectors Using Facebook and Social Media to Contact You

When the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was enacted in 1978, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter did not exist. No one could have anticipated how much of an impact social media would have on our lives but the debt collection industry is taking full advantage of our lives on public display.

MSN recently interviewed consumer attorney Craig Thor Kimmel for a story about how debt collectors use social media sites to contact consumers or gain information about them. Read the story on MSN here: Facebook, a debt collector’s friend

The following are useful strategies from that article to pre-empt unwanted calls or other communication from collectors:

1. Respond within 30 days of receiving a collection letter. For many people who receive a letter from a collection agency, the impulse is to bury their heads and ignore it. That’s a mistake. All you have to do is send them a letter within 30 days and tell them, ‘Do not contact me anymore through any method.’ They can still sue you for the debt, so the act of collecting doesn’t necessarily stop, but they can’t send you emails or call you anymore.

2. Use those privacy settings. Setting your profile to private reduces the likelihood that a collector has access to your wall or photos.

3. Be selective about what you post. Social networks like Facebook can create a false sense of intimacy because you’re communicating with friends. Even with a private profile, your friends’ accounts could still get hacked or someone could be peeking over their shoulder, so it’s smart to err on the side of privacy. Debt collectors use social media profiles to look for an address or employment information. A lot of people put what their occupation is, where they work, cellphone numbers.

4. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers. For reasons described earlier, don’t approve requests from people you don’t know. It could be a friend of a friend, but it could also be a collector or spammer.

5. Skip the “like” button. Liking your bank or credit card issuer on Facebook may open the door to the company collecting information about you that you haven’t given them.

If, despite these steps, a collector contacts you via a social media site, Kimmel suggests printing out the message or saving a screen shot to your computer to create a paper trail. “Once you have that, report the sender as spam on Facebook and file a grievance with the Federal Trade Commission,” he suggests. The consumer could be entitled to up to $1,000 plus legal fees and actual damages “if a debt collector engages in unauthorized debt collection contact, through, for example, social media,” says Kimmel, adding that a consumer attorney could help the person seek redress.

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