Even Scofflaws With $270K In Debt Have The Right To Not Be Cyberstalked By Collectors

We recently told you about the woman who admitted she indeed owed Kohl’s $20, but sued the retailer for being over-eager about collecting on the debt. But does a debt collector have more leeway to be a pest when the debt is 13,500 times that amount?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story of an area man who managed to elude debt collectors’ calls for more than a decade, while his original student loan debt ballooned from $80,000 to more than $270,000 due to lack of payment.

The man says he eventually got a lawyer in 2012 to begin working out a payment plan and thought that would be the end of it.

But then in May he had his photo taken with a local PBS personality at a Pittsburgh restaurant. After that photo was posted to Facebook and shared by various folks, it resulted in calls from a debt collection company to the restaurant looking for the scofflaw.

Whether or not the debt collectors violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act likely depends on how it found the man’s photo.

The assistant director of the FTC’‍s Bureau of Consumer Protection‘‍s financial practices division tells the Post-Gazette that if a debt collector found the restaurant by becoming the debtor’s Facebook “friend” under false pretenses or by connecting with individuals on his friends list under a false pretense, it would be in violation of disclosure laws and laws prohibiting contact with third parties associated with the debtor without prior consent.

But if the collector has its computers automatically scouring the Internet, looking for publicly available photos of people with this man’s name, it might be within the legal limits.

Both the FTC and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau have been trying to educate the collections industry about the use of social media for contacting debtors and their associates. While the technology might be newer than the telephone, the same rules requiring transparency and protecting the consumer’s information apply.

Explains the FTC rep, “Regardless of how much a debtor owes, it doesn’‍t mean they have to sacrifice their right to basic human dignity.”