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Texas Debt Collectors Use Social Networking to Find Debtors, Violate Texas Law

November 18, 2011

Corporate social networking is on the rise, and if you have a Twitter (News - Alert), Facebook, Tumblr or any social media account, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see a tweet or update from a major corporation in your news stream. Advertisers see the benefit of harnessing the power of social media and are becoming increasingly creative with their marketing materials because they understand the value of advertising in a social environment.

One corporation, however, used the power of social networking not for the good of all involved. In an effort to collect debt, Homeland Septic, LLC tapped Facebook (News - Alert) as a means to obtain personal information of its debtors and used it in a way that violates fair debt collection practices in the state of Texas.

Owners Justin Smock and Lawrence Brumbelow were slapped with a suit, citing that they violated the Texas Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Texas Business Commerce Code by Weisberg & Meyers, LLC, Attorneys for Consumers filing the petition.

The documents state that one of the plaintiffs, Lynn Kirkpatrick, was dissatisfied with work performed by Homeland Septic, LLC, and thus disputed the final bill. Homeland Septic countered that, saying all work was, in fact, complete and payment was due. When payment was not received, the collection efforts of Homeland Septic included harassing voicemails, as well as vulgar texts and threats.

Facebook messages were also sent, saying that a lien on the plaintiff's house for an amount that was 3 times the amount of the money owed when in fact court records showed no lien had been officially filed and placed on Kirkpatrick's home, a release on the matter said.

The plaintiff is seeking awards for actual, exemplary and emotional/mental anguish damages.

Debt collectors “friending” you on Facebook is so new that the Federal Trade Commission admits that it needs to update consumer debt collection practices for now debt collectors are still bound to the same rules set a few years ago. This means if they post on your Facebook wall, They cannot identify themselves as debt collectors, they can simply say they're looking to speak with you. Debt collectors can post on your friends walls, but again, only to ask if they know where you are.

In England, debt collectors have been banned from using social media as a means to collect what is due, according to Sky News.

The new guidance says debtors should not suffer from creditors “posting messages on social networking sites in a way that might potentially reveal that an identifiable person is being pursued for the repayment of a debt”.

Debt collectors aren’t allowed to discuss a person’s debt with anyone other than the borrower their spouse and lawyer, and the same applies in the U.S. under Federal Trade Commission rules.

“We’ve had a handful of complaints about companies engaging in debt recovery using Facebook or Twitter,” a spokesman for the OFT said. “We contacted the companies and they stopped the practice.”

Finding people this way is both legal and appropriate in the United States, however. Any information shared on such a site is legally available to anyone.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which governs third-party collectors, was passed in 1978, predating the Internet. It doesn't cover precisely what a collector can and can't do to uncover and converse with debtors on these sites.

What is clear, according to the act, is that misrepresentation is illegal. Therefore, collectors cannot be deceitful and claim to be an acquaintance or colleague so you'll friend them. Doing so may also be against the terms of the policy of whatever social media site they’re using.

The solution is not to close out your pages altogether, but rather confront any financial problems you might have head-on. This way, you can keep creditors far away from your online friends and photo albums.

Michelle Amodio is a TMCnet contributor. She has helped promote companies and groups in all industries, from technology to banking to professional roller derby. She holds a bachelor's degree in Writing from Endicott College and currently works in marketing, journalism, and public relations as a freelancer.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

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