A Florida judge has ordered a debt collection company to stop using Facebook to pester a woman, her family and friends about an unpaid car loan. The case could have wide-ranging implications as debt collectors turn to social media sites to ratchet up pressure on people who owe money.
According to a lawsuit filed in Florida state court, and reported on by the Associated Press, Melanie Beacham of St. Petersburg fell behind on her car payments of $362 a month after receiving a pay cut and taking a medical leave from her job.
Soon someone calling himself “Jeff Happenstance” befriended Beacham, her sister and cousin on Facebook. This Happenstance character demanded that Beacham pay her bill, and urged her relatives to encourage her to call Mark One Financial, a debt collection company.
“It’s humiliating. It’s personal,” Beacham told the Orlando Sentinel.
Bruce Newmark, Mark One’s managing director, told a reporter with the Sentinel that the company only resorts to contacting people by Facebook when it can’t reach them by phone. But the company already had Becham’s phone number and was calling it 10 times a day, according to Beacham’s lawsuit.
Billy Howard, Beacham’s lawyer, argued in court that the use of Facebook violated Beacham’s privacy, and broke a Florida law that prohibits harassment. Judge W. Douglas Baird agreed, barring Mark One from contacting Beacham, her family and friends on Facebook or any other social media site.
The case may be just the tip of the iceberg. Debt collectors increasingly use Facebook to track down debtors and pressure them to pay, Howard told the AP.
“It’s the beginning of an epidemic,” Howard, who has received almost a dozen calls from people who were contacted by debt collectors via social media sites.
Image: Franco Bouly