Can a Debt Collector Contact Me on Social Media?
Short answer: yes. They can message you, befriend you, and share stupid memes with you, just like everybody else. However, the law places some strict limitations on this contact. First of all, debt collectors must reveal their true identities when sending friend requests or adding people on social media. They can’t misrepresent themselves, like the collection agency did with the Chicago man using the picture of a woman wearing a bikini. Debt collectors must be upfront and transparent about their identity.
Although a debt collector can message you over social media, they may not post publicly for everyone to see. They may only message you privately. They also cannot message your friends and followers about you. They may not disclose your debt to third parties, whether it is over the phone, in person, or on your Facebook wall.
However, debt collectors can use information gleaned from social media against you. Posting about starting a new job can give them information about your employment status. Information about vacations, purchasing a home, buying a car-the kind of posts social media is made for-can inform a debt collector about your financial status and your ability to pay. You may think sharing joyful occasions like buying a new house or going on a honeymoon is harmless fun, but this is all information a collection agency can use as leverage to force you to pay.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
- Be Wary of Accepting Friend Requests From People You Don’t Know. You may be trying to inflate your follower count or get an audience for your business or webpage, but be aware that accepting friend requests from people you don’t know is risky behavior. You are giving strangers unlimited access to private information. Also, make sure to vet everyone you add-don’t just automatically add anyone who asks without checking them out. A collection agency can easily get full access to your social media if you just blindly accept friend requests.
- Keep Your Social Media Posts Private. These days, most platforms have settings to limit the audience for your posts. Use them. Allow only people you know in real life to access posts about your personal life.
- Be Mindful of Your Social Media Posts We’ve all heard this a million times-think before you post. You may have known better than to post that funny photo of you passed out on the floor after your college’s beer blast, but never imagine telling the world you just got married is information you have to hide. Well, in some states a spouse can also be held responsible for your debt, so collection agencies might love to find out this information and use it. They may also be legally able to contact your new spouse. As stated above, only share personal information with a select circle of trusted friends, and use your privacy settings to limit access to the rest of the world.
- Keep Friends and Family Lists Private Debt collectors are not allowed to message or reveal your debt to your friends and family, but let’s get real, many of them do it anyway. Most social media platforms allow you to restrict access to your friend list. Privacy settings are your friend.
- Don’t Assume You may think you have nothing to hide when you announce you got a big raise on Facebook, just as some collection agency is buying that Columbia House debt you got when you were eighteen years old in 1995. Although the statute of limitations is probably long expired from a debt accrued over twenty-five years ago, collection agencies are permitted to attempt to collect an old debt. And in some states, the clock will start ticking on the debt if you admit to it. Rather than take a risk that your friendly local collection agency is just being neighborly by adding you and making jokes about how everyone used to owe Columbia House, safe is better than sorry.
- Remember-It’s Not Private if You’re Sharing it With the Whole World! This thought needs an exclamation point, because many social media users tend to regard the completely public information shared on their page as just between them and their eight hundred friends. Some people go so far to think a non friend accessing their social media is “stalking” them. The reality is anyone can access public information about you, whether it’s a collection agency or your high school ex. It is not stalking, it is not a crime, in fact, social media actively encourages this behavior. The only way you can protect your information from falling into the wrong hands is to keep your private information truly private.
If you think a collection agency has crossed the line when communicating over social media, whether it’s through misrepresenting themselves, messaging friends and family, or posting on your wall about your debt, it’s time to stand up for yourself by contacting an attorney specializing in consumer law.