Facebook Friend or Foe? Debt Collectors Explore Online Information
Anyone who has ever carried an overdue debt knows how important it can be to stop creditor harassment. But times once were that the perpetual nuisance came in the form of rude phone calls at odd hours or a blizzard of intimidating letters. In our Web 2.0 world, consumers who are facing debt problems must also be wary of the availability of information about them on the Internet, particularly via such popular sites as Facebook and MySpace.
As the economy has worsened and financial problems have escalated, collection agencies have increasingly brought a bounty hunter’s mentality to their henchman’s task. Motivated by the promise of big profits for collecting debts often purchased for pennies on the dollar, debt collection companies have found that much can be learned about individuals by looking at their profiles, or snooping after information posted by friends and family on blogs and other public sites.
Debt collectors generally use interactive online resources in three distinct ways:
- Determining a person’s whereabouts, or confirming suspicions about a person’s specific location, particularly when trying to contact someone with a common name
- Obtaining clues about an individual’s actual financial situation by looking for evidence of travel, major purchases or other spending habits
- Posting directly in a public forum to humiliate and harass a person in front of peers and family
For the most part, the first two strategies are legal. But publicizing a debt to shame a debtor implicates Arizona consumer protection laws as well as the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). When things get this bad, it’s time to take control.
Seizing Control When Debt Haunts Your Every Move
Protecting one’s own privacy is very important regardless of whether or not you expect to be tracked down by a collection agency for unpaid debts. Everyone with a Facebook account or other interactive online profile should be completely familiar with their personal privacy settings, and individuals who anticipate legal action should be especially careful. Always remember the best advice you got in childhood: don’t talk to strangers.
That’s step one. If you are facing serious debt troubles, you should explore strategies for taking control of your financial future. A consultation with an Arizona bankruptcy lawyer can help you get a handle on your options for achieving debt relief and peace of mind.