Debt Collectors Exploit Facebook To Embarrass You To Friends And Family

A woman has filed suit, the first of its kind, to get a debt collector to stop harassing her, her friends, and her family through Facebook and other social networking sites.

Thanks to the social networking tools, debt collectors don’t even need to pay for skip tracing services to track down you and everyone you know. In this case, the collector started sending all her friends and family Facebook messages about her debt. Not exactly the thing you want to have show up on everyone’s walls! “OMG Debbie pay this stupid guy so he stops spamming me.” Then it’s got +7 likes, and 4 comments, one of them from your Dad and one from your ex-boyfriend…

“Now Facebook does a debt collectors work for them. Now it’s not only family members, it’s all of your associates. It’s a very powerful tool for debt collectors to use,” consumer attorney Billy Howard told WTSP.

That’s why it’s important to not just accept the default privacy settings Facebook gives you. Take time to familiarize yourself with the options, listed under account settings, to limit who has access to various parts of your profile. Sometimes being quickly connectable to everyone in your life has its downsides.

Debt collectors utilize Facebook to embarrass those who owe [WTSP] (Thanks to Jacob!)

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  1. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Honestly…

    I’m surprised it took them this long to figure this schtick out.

  2. Pax says:

    In this case, the collector started sending all her friends and family Facebook messages about her debt.

    That is a clear violation of the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practises Act. Debt collectors are not allowed to reveal any details about the debt, including it’s mere existence, to anyone except the person who owes it.

    Which means, AFAIK: she can sue, for EACH message the collector sent, and possibly for each RECIPIENT of each message. I think the amount is $1000, per infraction.

    So,I’m guessing the Debt Collector just volunteered to pay the whole debt. How nice of them, yes?

    • adamstew says:

      They can contact people you might know saying that “We’re from XYZ debt collection company. We are trying to reach Mr. Smith. Do you know how we can contact him?”.

      I don’t think this is right… because it basically tells those people that you have an outstanding debt, of some kind, that is unpaid. But it’s still perfectly legal, in the letter of the law.

      • Im Just Saying says:

        Sort of. If the name of the company indicates it’s a collection agency (eg. XYZ Collections), then they can’t reveal that information to 3rd parties. This is why so many agencies have non sequitor names and abreviations.

    • 420greg says:

      If Morgan and Morgan has the case the settlement will be big. They are going for $1k per friend and friends friends. It is a clear violation of the FDCPA.

    • human_shield says:

      Since this involves the Internet, she should take a tip from the RIAA and sue for every ‘possible’ infraction, since the information could have potentially been seen by thousands of people, and sue for $150 million.

      • ExtraCelestial says:

        Genius!!

      • the_wandering_monster says:

        Hmm, if they took that page out of the RIAA playbook, depending on the palntiff’s profile settings, it could be argued that the debt collector just opened them selves up to a ~$500,000,000,000 (nope, that isn’t a typo) fine :)

    • qualityleashdog says:

      Now I want to be on Facebook! How do I bait my creditors into contacting me there?

    • check this out says:

      Unless they are a third party collection agency or they are not a financial institution.

      • ludwigk says:

        Neither of those are correct. FDCPA applies to any parties who are classified as “Debt Collectors.” This is satisfied if the party’s “principle purpose” is debt collection, or if they are in the “regular practice” of collecting debts. If debt collecting is “frequent and consistent” although constituting a very small percentage of a party’s business, the restrictions can apply.

        FDCPA was amended specifically in the 80s to address this statutory short-coming in order to include 3rd party debt collectors, and law firms who were in the practice of collecting debts for clients.

      • ludwigk says:

        Neither of those are correct. FDCPA applies to any parties who are classified as “Debt Collectors.” This is satisfied if the party’s “principle purpose” is debt collection, or if they are in the “regular practice” of collecting debts. If debt collecting is “frequent and consistent” although constituting a very small percentage of a party’s business, the restrictions can apply.

        FDCPA was amended specifically in the 80s to address this statutory short-coming in order to include 3rd party debt collectors, and law firms who were in the practice of collecting debts for clients.

  3. HogwartsProfessor says:

    I thought they couldn’t contact other people about your debt. Isn’t that a violation?

    • SugarMag says:

      I believe they can contact others to locate you contact details but can never say why they are calling. Just “I’m looking for Hogwart. How can I reach him?”. I resent dingdongs giving info out freely without known reasons but I guess collectors have to make a living too.

      • seamer says:

        I remember the law saying something like not being able to use friends/family to get your attention. This included having a neighbor leave a note on your door to call X.

      • amgriffin says:

        I don’t think they are trying to find her. They have found her. They are using Facebook to send messages to her friends to embarrass her into paying.

      • MongoAngryMongoSmash says:

        “I’m looking for Hogwart. How can I reach him?”

        FIDUCIARY REDUCTO! *poof*

    • macoan says:

      I think as long as they don’t say they are trying to contact you to collect a debt, then it’s not really a violation of the law.

      Of course when a person calls who is working for a debt collecting agency is trying to get ahold of someone else, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out it is probable to try to collect a debt.

    • sonneillon says:

      Debt collectors frequently ignore the law. Under the assumption that most people are not going to sue them under the FDCA. Although Facebook is kind of a bad way to go about it because it creates a recording of every collection attempt.

  4. Darrone says:

    This will make failbook far more interesting. Though from what i’ve read, moms have been doing this with child support for a while.

    • MrEvil says:

      Child support is a way different can of worms. Child support is determined and collected by the state when a father refuses to otherwise pay to support his children (I know this is gender bias, but when was the last time you heard of a woman having to pay child support?). If you’re a responsible dad odds are you won’t have the court taking money from your paycheck.

  5. Admiral_John says:

    Isn’t it possible on FB to adjust your security settings in such a way that your friends aren’t visible to anyone but other friends? I could’ve sworn that’s how mine’s set.

  6. macoan says:

    A lot of time the debt collectors will not say XXX person has a debit to be paid, they will just say “OH, we need to contact XXX – do you know how to contact them?” – Well we are the “Debit collection group” and need to talk with XXX.

    … of course 99.9% of the people can figure out that if a debt collector group is trying to contact a friend/family member of yours, most likely it is because they owe money…. but the debt collectors I think – think they can get away with it since they never say they are calling about a debt, just how to get ahold of the person.

    …. NOT trying to say this should be allowed, just what I think the debt collectors are thinking.

    • maubs says:

      They’ll tell the other party that it’s a “personal business matter.” As if that’s something you’d say about anything else than debt collection.

      • isileth says:

        The “personal matter” is something used by sellers trying to get hold of my boss, but they are not that successful because his real friends say their names when they call.

        • Azzizzi says:

          Yeah, that’s true. That’s as bad as “important information about your account” on an envelope.

          • GearheadGeek says:

            I thought “important information about your account” was bankerese for “more of those damned cash-advance checks tied to your credit card for you to shred.”

            When it came time to replace the shredder, I got one I can feed whole envelopes to at once, just for this sort of envelope.

  7. Portlandia says:

    Okay, my first inclination was to post a blame the OP post because they should lock down their FB account so only friends can see their information but I believe FB is mostly to blame for the lax information security on their site.

    This is a clear violation of the FDCPA and this rogue debt collector sounds like they’re in need of a good smack down and civil suit slapping them with violations of Fair debt collection practices.

  8. Blueskylaw says:

    Thank goodness I don’t have Facebook (come on, you saw that coming). This debt collector should be sued for harassment and if Facebook is complicit in some way (such as not helping to stop these actions) then they should be sued too.

    Facebook and Zuckerburg are a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity and these “horror” stories will only continue to get worse until people realize that they are there to make themselves money and not to help you “connect” with your friends and make your life better.

  9. u1itn0w2day says:

    Idiot debt collectors left documentation and proof for a lawsuit.

    I get the ‘we need to contact this person’. They try to make it seem so official. They even use the call rerouting services so caller ID doesn’t show one of the 1-800 call centers they actually use and most ignore.

    I do get messages on the answering machine with a warning if your not person X do not listen to this call-lol. I want to sue for that-one day we got almost 2 dozen calls. They like to call in succession with different phone numbers as to try and fool you.

    I would sue.

  10. MrBryan says:

    Pay your bills, don’t worry about dept collectors.

    • NYGuy1976 says:

      And don’t get cancer then you never have to worry about healthcare. You have no idea why someone is in debt and not every case is poor financial decisions. A lot is healthcare related and with record high unemployment it could be because of a job loss. But I am sure you know all about that.

    • voivod says:

      Except that doesn’t work. I don’t have any debt, but get calls all the time because other people that apparently do have debts have a similar name to mine. So your suggestion is purely useless unless you have a very unique name or all others with a similar name to your also pay their bills as well (good luck with that).

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      I never worry about Department Collectors. They have to defer to the head of my Department to do that ;D

    • Megalomania says:

      By Jove, you’re right! Can you send the OP your time machine so we can go fix what was wrong?

    • areaman says:

      This post is about a debt collector who’s harassing people who do not owe money. RTA

      But then again you mention “dept collectors”. Who should worry about dept collectors? If I get one of these messages on FB about my friend who owes depts I’ll tell them to get some depts so they can pay off the dept collector.

    • amgriffin says:

      Not all debts are legitimate.

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      Appropriate avatar for you, troll :)

  11. Im Just Saying says:

    Now that I’ve RTFA, the agency this is referring to isn’t an agency at all. It is the original creditor and many loan applications require references that can be contacted regarding the loan. Also, because it’s the orginal creditor, not all aspects of the FDCPA apply.

    I would say they’re taking unnecessary risks, but probably not specificially illegal.

  12. isileth says:

    Where I live a few years ago someone wrote on a lot of “real” walls a nasty reminder to a woman, with first and last name, to pay her debt.
    They also distributed leaflets with the same phrase.
    It wasn’t so nice.

  13. Anachronism says:

    I do quite a bit of skip tracing, and facebook is my closest friend. I work as a mortgage fraud investigator (for a private firm), and spend a lot of my day finding people to confirm fraud. Because most of the borrowers I am contacting have a loan in foreclosure, they are often difficult to find, and a good portion of them are also in contact with jackass debt collectors over their other delinquent debts.

    What is awesome about Facebook for this is 1.It is free, and 2. Not only do you get to see the individual’s acquiantances, but in most cases, you get to see details about the relationship.

    With other databases, like, say LexisNexis, I can get a TON of information, but it is simply based on association. If somebody moved into your apartment after you, it will show this person as an “acquiantaince” but will not show me the relationship because it doesn’t know. In many cases there is no real relationship.

    Even if you have your privacy settings set up so that I (as a non-facebook friend) cannot see your wall (which only about 50% of people do), 95% of the time I can see your friends list. With your friends list, I can see people with the same last name, and in almost all cases, I get a picture of them, which gives me a decent idea of age. People of a similar age, with a same last name, born in the same hometown (which most people do not protect, even though so many online security questions are “What city were you born in,” but I digress) gives me a good idea that they are siblings. In a similar manner, I can usually locate mom, grandma, etc.

    If you have your wall unlocked, it gets much, much better. I have tied people to fraud rings based on their wall posts to one another, and have presented such as evidence on several occaisions.

    The moral of this story is to PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY. I don’t collect debts, and am not bound by the FDCPA, but I still locate plenty of people who probably did not want to be found based on the information they happily share on the internet. This should be harder for me to do.

    • HannahK says:

      Shouldn’t the moral of the story be lock down your privacy settings only if you commit fraud or skip out on your debts? Personally, I’m not hiding from anyone, so I don’t have my facebook privacy settings locked down. If someone (like a potential employer, etc.) googles me I want them to be able to find the real me. I don’t understand why the average person needs to be paranoid.

      • macoan says:

        I think the moral of the story should be: “NEVER put something on-line that you would not want EVERYONE to know.”

        If there is an ex that you do not want to know what city you live in now, then DO NOT PUT IN ON THE INTERNET (even if you just think your facebook “friends” will see it.)

        If you went out last night and got wasted, and you don’t want your mom to find out – then DO NOT PUT IN ON THE INTERNET.

        Myself, like you – don’t have a lot to hide, so I don’t lock everything down. For example, I was job hunting not too long ago, so I also made sure a few things, like family pictures were a little less hidden – so if possible employees did do some searching on me to check on me, they might see “Oh, what a good person – a family man – the type of person we want working for us.”

      • Anachronism says:

        But you never know WHO might be looking, and for what purpose.

        Some may be doing it (looking at your personal info) for legal purposes (myself), but still for circumstances that you probably wouldn’t like (for example, finding out whether you lied on a loan application on any level my client cares about).

        Some may be doing it for legal purposes that still end up harrasing the hell out of you.

        Some may be doing it for fraudulent or illegal purposes, like finding out the questions needed to reset your e-mail password (what is your dogs name, where did you grow up, what is your school mascot etc.) so they can then hijack your bank accounts by requesting new passwords sent to your now hijacked e-mail, to which they can billpay/transfer your funds out and lots of other fun things.

        The point is, if you have the information out there, you have ZERO control over how it is used. LOCK IT DOWN!

        • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

          I was reading another blog a couple days ago, a story of online dating horror stories. This girl had a profile on an online dating site, but didn’t really use it. One day she’s out on a date and her boyfriend goes to the men’s room, and a fellow with a laptop at another table comes over and shows her the profile she had on that other site. And her facebook profile. And her twitter page. Random guy at a restaurant sees her and finds her internet life–who she is, where she lives, all right there.

          It sent chills down my spine.

  14. sopmodm14 says:

    facebook and debt collectors

    2 of world’s evils

  15. coren says:

    Aside from the blatant FDPCA violations, there’s another problem. Given debt collector’s propensity for getting the wrong information, or contacting same name, wrong person – they’re going to fuck this up. Probably are fucking this up. This is going to be all sorts of fail.

    • Not Given says:

      I know, right?
      My vanity FB link is firstname.lastname but I made sure I do not show up in search and share nothing with anyone who isn’t a friend. The funny thing is there is at least one other woman with my same unusual name, in the same state, that does come up in search and I hope she sues the crap out of every one of them.

  16. framitz says:

    A little off topic, but…

    When was the last day that went by without some scandal, security issue, or other crap involving facebook?

    I’m ever so glad I had my account deleted when that was possible.

    • ExtraCelestial says:

      I was thinking exactly this when they announced they were getting involved in email. So you can screw with my privacy/security on an even broader scale? Umm… pass!

  17. Oranges w/ Cheese says:

    If you don’t lockdown your own Facebook account, you deserve what you get, sorry.

  18. SecretAgentWoman says:

    I just checked, and don’t think it’s possible to hide your friend’s list at all. Anyone care to comment?

  19. Geekybiker says:

    Isn’t it illegal for them to contact people other than you about your debt? Imagine the award for contacting the number of people on your friends list about it.

  20. Groanan says:

    So they can charge 29% interest on the entirety of a loan as a result off of one late payment, but it is a crime for them to come to your work / house and embarrass you?

    How did their huge lobby not get the latter authorized? Did they intentionally stop buying more rights for themselves out of being overly stuffed?

  21. Duke_Newcombe-Making children and adults as fat as pigs says:

    Is it just me, or is the photo above one of the most visually distinct and stunning photos for an article Consumerist has had lately? Is it on the Flickr feed yet? Must have for wallpaper!

  22. NydiaGeben says:

    Just another reason to avoid having a Facebook account, which is basically a big time waster anyway.

  23. Get A Amberlance says:

    Just one more reason to stay away from Facebook…

  24. The Marionette says:

    Although I believe people should pay back the dept they owe, i DON’T believe that collectors should be using crude (also illegal) tactics in order to squeeze the payment out of them.

  25. hotcocoa says:

    This is all sorts of irritating. Good luck to her for making them pay in court for such underhanded crapiness.