Who doesn't use some form of social media these days? It's fun to follow friends' lives via Facebook or see what amusing thing a celebrity is going to "tweet" today, but it's now a tool that debt collectors are using to locate people. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the federal law meant to keep debt collectors in line, was passed in 1978 - decades before the internet and social media sites were invented and a huge part of our daily lives. The law does not specifically address what the "dos and don'ts" of using Facebook, Twitter, or other sites to locate and contact people.
What if a debt collector posts something on your Facebook page or contacts one of your relatives after finding them on your page? There is nothing in the law that specifically prohibits this. However, there are lawyers out there now trying to get the law changed to address this new, popular form of communication. Watch the news for future developments; it's important for the law to keep up with technology, too.
There are things you can do to try and protect yourself from these sort of social media invasions by debt collectors. First, respond to any collection letter withing 30 days and specifically tell the collection agency not to contact you. Do this in writing! Once they receive this notice by letter, they cannot e-mail, call, or otherwise contact you. Second, use the privacy settings on your accounts. It's good practice to set up filters to limit access to your page anyway, but make sure that you check and change those settings so only your friends can see your posts or access your information. Third, make sure you're careful about your posts. Again, this is a good policy in general, but you should keep personally identifying information like your address, employer, and phone numbers off your Facebook page. Fourth, don't accept "friend requests" from strangers! You never know . . . that could be a debt collector. Finally, skip the "like" button, especially for your bank, credit card company, or other financial institutions. Most people don't know that this opens up a gateway to their personal information to these companies. You don't want to give them any fuel to the fire.
Facebook and Twitter are still fun and great ways to keep in touch with the people in your life, but be smart and keep yourself protected from harassment by debt collectors.