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Debt collectors use social media to track debtors

By Bill Gephardt | Posted - Nov 4th, 2013 @ 8:37am



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SALT LAKE CITY — Debt collectors have upped their game. They're using social media to find the people who owe them money.

"Many times when you have an unpaid debt, tracking that person down can sometimes be a challenge," explained Preston Cochrane of the Utah AAA Fair Credit Foundation.

That's why debt collection agencies regularly scour Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and other sites for valuable clues.

Some even create a fake account and try to "friend" a debtor. If the request is accepted, a debt collector can learn all sorts of things about a debtor such as his or her job, their hobbies and even their friends.

"The more information they have about you, the better they can collect that debt," Cochrane said.

That's why it's important what you post on Facebook matches what you tell debt collectors. If it doesn't, you could be going to court.

"If you owe a debt and you told the debt collector you don't have any money but five minutes later post pictures of you out shopping, or of you on the beach of your vacation and they see that, they've caught you red-handed. They caught you in a lie," Cochrane said.

He said the law covering debt collectors and social media is gray but there are definite boundaries. They can't harass you repeatedly or threaten you with arrest on social media, just like they can't over the phone.

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Also, posting something like, "You still owe us $300" on your wall where everyone can see it is a definite no-no.

"If I send it to all your friends and contacts, 'Why haven't you paid your bill?' then that's against the law," Cochrane said.

The law governing fair debt collection practices was written in 1977, years before the internet. The Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are looking at ways to update it.

Until then, experts advise the public to be smart about what they post and the friends they add to their social network.

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