Debt collectors have time and again proven to be ruthless in tracking down delinquent borrowers, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before social media became their go-to hunting grounds.
"Howard said he’s seen more aggressive use of social media by debt collectors, including rude postings on a person’s “wall,” the part of a Facebook account that a person’s friends can see. Some collectors masquerade as friendly personalities to catch an alleged debtor’s attention.
“You get a friend request from some chick in a bikini,” said Howard, a lawyer with Morgan & Morgan P.A. in Tampa, Florida. “You say yes, and then somebody says ‘‘by the way, I’m a debt collector.’"
While consumers are protected by abusive collections practices under The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, the law took effect more than 30 years ago –– well before anyone could have dreamed up a world with Facebook stalking.
That's why regulators have been calling for new regulations that could add social media protections explicitly to the list. As of January, most large debt collectors were officially herded under the regulatory umbrella of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In tangent with the Federal Trade Commission, the CFPB's already issued rules that would force collectors to streamline consumer complaint practices, keep borrowers informed of any legal actions from start to finish, and tone down aggressive language. It might also restrict them from contacting borrowers on sites like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter , and LinkedIn .
But chances are that the debt industry won't take kindly to its young new Sheriff. The CFPB estimates as many as 30 million consumers are being pursued by collectors today, accounting for more than $12 billion in revenue per year.
It's a lucrative business, and since many forms of debt –– including medical bills and student loans –– can be sold off multiple times to different collectors, persistent collectors can easily chase borrowers well into their retirement years.
"In just a few months I'm going to turn 62 years old," said a former Psychology student in a debt story posted on studentdebtcrisis.org. "I've been attempting to pay back my [$44,000 in private] student loan debt for 22 years."
Word to the wise: If you're being hounded by debt collectors the old fashioned way (by phone) or otherwise, the best way to report aggressive tactics is to either alert the FTC or submit a complaint to the CFPB. And don't forget you have rights, too.
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