To debt collectors all over the world, Facebook has become a veritable fount of information that makes their job considerably easier. If you were a debt collector and one of your borrowers had suddenly gone AWOL – easy, all you need to do is to lay in wait until he updates his Facebook page. Even if he doesn’t, you’re still provided with a ready-made list of people whom you can ask about the borrower’s whereabouts. If you’re lucky, he’ll have updated his profile, posted new pictures – and hey, maybe even offered up his location on a silver platter with Facebook’s new Location Feature.
With the wealth of information so readily available on social networking sites, you would think that more collection agencies would be mining the sites incessantly. It appears that the trend is not as widespread as one would think. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in the UK has revealed that they have only received a few complaints about such cases. Even so, they’re very determined to put a halt to the practice of debt collectors using social networking sites to track and sometimes even to harass their debtors.
The OFT said that trying to contact a person through social media is a new spin on an old trick that debt collectors used to employ. It’s just the same as leaving a message on the borrower’s answering machine which the borrower’s family could possibly hear or slipping a postcard under the borrower’s door to get the same result.
Such a practice, according to the OFT, is “unfair and improper” and that it makes a correspondence that should be private visible to the public. The OFT also said that it causes stress and embarrassment to the borrower and that it’s not good practice to do so, as the debt collector has a responsibility to keep the dealings only between him and the borrower and to not let anyone else know of the personal affairs of the borrower.
The cases which were reported were dealt with swiftly by the OFT, which they simply did by contacting the offending companies and informing them that such practices would not be tolerated.
The OFT has thus created new guidelines that ban the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter for debt collection, especially if doing so would “potentially reveal that an identifiable person is being pursued for the repayment of a debt.”
Just because collectors aren’t supposed to use Facebook to track down deadbeats, doesn’t mean they still wont try. People who accept random friend requests or leave status updates set on ‘public’ could obviously, unknowingly be traced.