Regulators Looking To Rein In Debt Collectors Who Use Facebook To Contact Consumers

Even though there’s a lengthy “no-no” list of things debt collectors can’t do, it makes no mention of how collections agencies can use social media. But that may be about to change as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau gains oversight control over the largest members of the collections industry.

Some debt collectors have been using Facebook for years to locate and make contact with alleged debtors. Some have even gone so far as to use these consumers’ actual Facebook friends in their attempts to collect. And they have frequently gotten away with it for lack of specific regulations.

But Bloomberg reports that the CFPB, which now has regulatory control of collections agencies, and the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, are looking to craft new rules, which would include regulations on social media contact, for the $17 billion industry.

Earlier this week, the government’s Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council — an interagency group that works with the CFPB, the FDIC, the Fed and other banking regulators to help craft uniform rules and standards — issued a proposed guidance document that states:

Using social media to inappropriately contact consumers, or their families and friends, may violate the restrictions on contacting consumers imposed by the FDCPA. Communicating via social media in a manner that discloses the existence of a debt or to harass or embarrass consumers about their debts (e.g., a debt collector writing about a debt on a Facebook wall) or making false or misleading representations may violate the FDCPA.

The FIEC has asked for the public to comment on this guidance to see what “other types of social media, or ways in which financial institutions are using social media” might be included in regulations.

A rep for debt collection trade association ACA International tells Bloomberg that the group encourages its members to avoid using social media to contact consumers because “The rules on it are not clear.”

One lawyer for the industry disagrees.

“The law should not stand in the way of a consumer’s desire to communicate in these new ways,” he tells Bloomberg, saying that the industry will likely fight any attempt to further regulate the ways in which it can contact people.

Bloomberg also reports that the CFPB is planning to add debt collection agencies to its growing number of complaint portals. Given that debt collection is often the most-complained about topic to the FTC, the folks at the CFPB might want to consider hiring a few extra people to monitor this new portal when it launches.