It’s not just friends that are noticing your status updates on Facebook.
Debt collectors are now combing through social networks to learn about the lives of those who owe them money in order to embarrass them into paying up.
One woman in Tampa, Florida felt violated when she found out she was being stalked by collectors online.
Melanie Beacham told WTSP’s Beau Zimmer that she had been receiving as many as 20 calls per day from MarkOne Financial after getting sick and falling behind on her car payments.
“Then one day she got a call from her sister saying the company contacted her in Georgia,” Zimmer wrote.
“I was telling her, ‘No way, because you’re not even a reference,'” Beacham said.
After finding out that the company had contacted her sister and other relatives through Facebook, Beacham contacted consumer attorney Billy Howard of Morgan & Morgan.
“Now Facebook does a debt collector’s work for them,” Howard told Zimmer. “Now it’s not only family members, it’s all of your associates. It’s a very powerful tool for debt collectors to use.”
Howard believes stalking through Facebook could become a standard technique for debt collectors if action isn’t taken.
“It’s getting the desired result, and that is to start a domino effect of panic and embarrassment among family and friends, and people will do anything to stop that,” he said.
Howard wants MarkOne Financial to stop using Facebook and other social media to harass Beacham’s family and friends. He’s filed a lawsuit to make his point.
Tana Ganeva at Alternet notes that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website is clear that debt collectors may only contact other people to find out your contact information. Since MarkOne Financial already had been calling Beacham as many as 20 times per day, it’s doubtful that they were contacting family members to get her contact information.
If an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people – but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.
“Nobody should have to go through what I went through,” Beacham said. “I was hurt because I just felt I didn’t need my family going through that.”
This video is from WTSP, broadcast Nov. 17, 2010.