By Mandi Woodruff
Debt collectors have time and again proven to be ruthless in tracking down delinquent borrowers, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before social media became their go-to hunting grounds.
In a report on the government's attempt to tighten laws on collection practices, attorney Billy Howard tells Bloomberg's Carl Dougherty about his client's run-in with social media loan sharks:
Howard said he's seen more aggressive use of social media by debt collectors, including rude postings on a person's "wall," the part of a Facebook account that a person's friends can see. Some collectors masquerade as friendly personalities to catch an alleged debtor's attention.
"You get a friend request from some chick in a bikini," said Howard, a lawyer with Morgan & Morgan P.A. in Tampa, Florida. "You say yes, and then somebody says, ''by the way, I'm a debt collector.'"
As of January, most debt collectors have been officially herded under the regulatory umbrella of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In tangent with the FTC, the consumer agency is working on implementing new regulations that would prevent debt collectors from unnecessarily harassing consumers in default.
The rules call for collectors to streamline consumer complaint practices, keep borrowers informed of any legal actions from start to finish, and tone down aggressive language. It might also restrict them from contacting borrowers on social media sites like Facebook (FB), Google Plus (GOOG), Twitter, Yelp (YELP), and LinkedIn (LNKD).
We've already seen the CFPB's power in play with the recent $112.5 million civil judgment against American Express (AXP) for shady lending practices.
But chances are that the debt industry won't take kindly to the new Sheriff in town. The CFPB estimates as many as 30 million consumers are being pursued by collectors today, accounting for more than $12 billion in revenue for per year.
It's a lucrative business, and since many forms of debt -- including medical bills and student loans -- can be sold off multiple times to different collectors, persistent collectors can easily chase borrowers well into their retirement years.
"In just a few months I'm going to turn 62 years old," said a former Psychology student in a debt story posted on studentdebtcrisis.org. "I've been attempting to pay back my [$44,000 in private] student loan debt for 22 years."
Word to the wise: If you're being hounded by debt collectors the old fashioned way (by phone) or otherwise, the best way to report aggressive tactics is to either alert the FTC or submit a complaint to the CFPB. And don't forget, you have rights, too.
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