If you are being pressured to pay a debt, you know that collection agents can be relentless. A collection agency may be constantly bombarding you with demands for payment. Letters, phone calls, and . . . Facebook? That’s right. Social media makes it even easier for debt collectors to find and pursue you. Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten the question from clients: Can a debt collector message me on Facebook?
Paying or settling a certain debt may be a smart choice for you. But no one enjoys being harassed by a rude debt collector. In some cases, debt collectors cross the line into clearly illegal territory. But the lack of regulation on the internet has resulted in debt collectors having the upper hand.
The Federal Trade Commission has not yet promulgated comprehensive rules regarding debt collection over social media. For now, suffice it to say, debt collectors can legally use social media to attempt collection on debts.
The permission you give them
The internet is a collection agent’s best friend. What you have publicly posted on Facebook is fair game for debt collectors. Debt collectors may legally use any of your public Facebook profile information. Any luxuries posted as your property are also fair game for them to make a case against you. Any contact information you post on Facebook is extraordinarily useful to a collection agent.
Think carefully before you post. And use the security and privacy protection tools offered by Facebook. Watch what you share, and with whom you share it.
Facebook leaves it up to you how public or private your profile will be. If you are careful and take measures to keep your account private, you’re denying a debt collector a valuable means by which to collect on the debt.
What is Strictly Prohibited and the Gray Areas
Debt collectors are strictly prohibited from posting to your Facebook wall or “timeline.” Such a message would be visible to third parties. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) expressly states that collectors cannot harass you no matter how they contact you. The FDCPA places great emphasis on the privacy of the person who owes a debt. A public posting to your Facebook wall would therefore be a violation of the FDCPA.
A gray area arises when a debt collector privately messages the debtor on Facebook. While constantly messaging a debtor is clearly harassment, debt collectors are allowed to message you at least once during a reasonable period of time. This is a gray area of the current law regarding debt collections practices.
Another gray area is whether a debt collector can privately message your friends or relatives on Facebook in an attempt to reach you. This is a form of skip-tracing, which has been around for many years. If a debt collector already has your contact information, then the FDCPA prohibits their contacting third parties. And divulging your financial information to any third party is strictly prohibited.
So Can a Debt Collector Message Me on Facebook?
The bottom line is that a debt collectors can contact you through a private message on Facebook. But they cannot hound you by messaging you constantly or by posting to your wall. Collection agents can also contact your friends and family, but only if other attempts to reach you have failed. And they may not divulge your personal financial information to any unauthorized third party.