Managing Debt

Making Facebook “Friends” with Debt Collectors

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Planning to make a big purchase, take a new job or go on vacation? If you owe money and are being pursued by a debt collector, it’s probably not a good idea to tell your Facebook friends about it.

Bill collectors use social media too, and they’re using the websites to track debtors down, according to a story by National Public Radio.

“My collectors and skip tracers will put their name in to be a friend to the debtor,” Gary Nitzkin, who owns a debt collection firm, told NPR. “Find out what they’re doing. Are they going boating today — on their new sailboat? Well, guess what? We just found an asset that we can take.”

Collectors can get even more personal. People who use Facebook Places, Foursquare and other GPS-based cell phone tools place their exact locations directly onto their Facebook pages. Debt collectors can watch to see what stores debtors regularly visit. They even can use the information to track consumers down in public and confront them, according to a story by Fox Business.

The legality of such tactics remains an open question. In response to NPR’s question about whether bill collector can pose as friends to make contact on social media sites, the Federal Trade Commission sent an email saying that federal law “mandates that collectors must disclose that they are attempting to collect on a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.”

In the interview, Nitzkin acknowledged that making Facebook friends with debtors under false pretenses is a “gray area” under the law, but he insisted the practice is legal.

“If you ask defense attorneys, they’ll tell you that what I do is underhanded, sneaky and completely uncalled for,” Nitkin said. “If you ask my colleagues — the plaintiff attorneys that collect these debts — we’re laughing. We think it’s a wonderful thing.”

Image by benstein via Flickr

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  • Frank Dorman

    Christopher,

    The FTC recently announced a proposed policy statement seeking public comment and will consider all public comments before deciding how to proceed.

    FTC Proposes Policy Statement Clarifying How to Collect Decedents’ Debts
    http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/10/debtcollect.shtm

    I hope this is helpful.

    Frank Dorman, FTC Public Affairs

  • Christopher Maag

    Thanks Frank! I’ll check this out and see if we should write a new story about it.

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