Managing Debt

Are Debt Collectors Stalking You Online?

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Debt collectors spend a lot of time chasing down accounts, many of which will never result in a payment being made. A smart collector will spend time trying to collect on accounts that are most likely to have the ability to pay. Therefore, some collectors are looking beyond the traditional tools, like your credit report, to better target the accounts to spend time on.

That means it’s possible that a debt collector may be stalking you online, and probably in ways that you may not realize.

Collecting Debt Using Social Media

Who of us think about our unpaid debts when we are sharing with friends and family? In our daily use of social media, how many of us accept a friend request from someone we don’t know? Who thinks about that overdue credit card bill when sending out a tweet?

Though getting a Facebook message from a debt collector would shock most people, American Banker posted an article in which one debt collection industry insider suggests collectors are “cybertrackers.” One example in that article of what a debt collector might find useful while tracking people would be if someone posted about starting a new job.

There are obvious reasons why debt collectors see the value in tracking you down through social networks:

  1. To contact you. If you are not picking up the phone, or responding to collection letters, that really only leaves the courts. Using social networks might be a way to get you to respond to them. It would certainly be an additional stress point – a reminder that you still owe a debt.
  2. To track your behavior and profile you as collectible. If you tweet or post to your wall about the vacation you are planning, or one you took recently, you will look more collectible.

But what about other ways a debt collector may find you online?

Scanning Websites That Offer Get-Out-of-Debt Help

I own and operate a free debt relief resource website. A few weeks ago, someone claiming to be a debt collector posted a comment, threatening to sue one poster who was seeking debt advice.

In these forums, I offer experienced and free feedback to help people resolve debt on their own. To do that effectively, I need as much information as possible. Limiting the details means offering less meaningful and actionable feedback. But debt collectors are paying attention to the details, too.

How can a debt collector follow all of the posts from struggling consumers that occur online every day? Technology makes that easier than trying to match up a Twitter or Facebook profile for a common name.

Using tools like Google Alerts, you can track new information that gets published to the Internet. A debt collector can set an alert for the company, or law firm name, and get email alerts when anything new is indexed by the search engine. In the email alert is a link to the page that contained the reference. They can click the link, review the page for context, and match up different identifiers with any file they are working on.

Getting Debt Help Online While Protecting Your Privacy

If you post online about anything, you should already know that doing so raises privacy concerns. If you are seeking answers to a debt problem, you should be ready to provide general information in order to get more specific and helpful feedback, but it’s important to consider how to do so in a way that keeps you protected. Here are some ways to help prevent a debt collector from tying your online comments to a debt they have on their desk:

  1. Do not post while logged into a commenting profile you have set up.
  2. Do not use your first or last name.
  3. Do not let the fact that debt collectors may routinely scan the Internet deter you from seeking out helpful tips and feedback. A good Google search can turn up many articles from experts who can help and you can reach them via email if possible to get more questions answered.

Image: iStockphoto

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