Debt collectors have long been able to reach out to people who owe money by calling them, leaving voicemails, or sending snail mail. Now they have even more options.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ruled that starting last week debt collection agencies are allowed to use social media to contact people, meaning that you can expect direct messages on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. The new rule extends to text messages and emails as well.
Due to the Fair Debt Collection Act, debt collectors must follow a few rules: The message must be private, the debt collector must identify themselves as such, and they must provide a way to opt out of messages.
Opening up debt collection to these platforms will likely lead to Americans receiving a barrage of messages, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action. "Since there is no limit on the number of text messages or emails a debt collector can send, and they can send you private messages via your social media accounts, we expect that people who owe money will be bombarded," she says.
Along with messages from real debt collectors, the rule might provide more opportunities for scammers, says Mike Litt, consumer campaign director at U.S. PIRG. "The new debt collection rules open people up to more harassment and scams," he says. Almost one-third of Americans have fallen victim to phone scams, according to a report by Truecaller.
Here's how to handle debt collectors who contact you using social media, text messages, and email.
Debt collectors can send you a friend request on Facebook or follow you on Twitter but cannot post publicly on any social media timelines. If they say what agency they are part of, look it up. "We suggest consumers research the debt collection company's name to verify that it is a legitimate business before communicating, replying to, or clicking on any URLs with the collector," Sherry says.
The biggest debt collection agencies in the United States, according to Nexa Collections Debt Recovery, are Transworld Systems Inc., The Kaplan Group, Encore Capital Group, and Portfolio Recovery Associates.
A debt collector is required by law to provide you with with certain information, according to the CFPB. The information includes the name of the creditor and the amount owed.
"Legitimate debt collectors must send you proof that you owe the debt, such as a copy of the original bill owed to the creditor," Sherry says. "If a collector continues to hound you after you've asked for, but not received, a verification notice that explains what the debt is and how much you owe, chances are it's a scam."
One collector can call you five times a day without it being "harassment," according to the CFPB. The more debt you owe to different collectors, the more communications you can anticipate receiving. It's important to remember that even if you owe a debt, you have the right to opt out of communications.
Even the debt collectors contacting you on social media or via text message must provide a way to opt out of messages, according to the new rule.
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