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How To Protect Your Social Media Accounts From Debt Collectors

3 April 2012 24 Comments

Guest Post: Tweeting about a new job or updating your status on Facebook about your daily life might seem innocent enough, but don’t forget — anyone can read your information. While you might think only your friends would care, employers, lenders, and debt collectors can scope out  public profiles to get information about people. If this is the case, how can you work to protect your information?

General Privacy Issues

From posting about your day on Facebook to pinning your favorite kitchen layout on Pinterest, you could spend all day online flitting from one social media outlet to the next. Sounds harmless right? But what about privacy issues? And who is reading your updates anyway? What if a debt collection agency is trying to find you?

Privacy is a primary focus of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research group. [1] EPIC was founded with the mission to look at “emerging privacy and civil liberties issues.” This public interest research group was founded in 1994 to protect privacy, the First Amendment, and constitutional values. EPIC is currently investigating the following online privacy topics:

  • whether Facebook is violating the privacy of its users and their profiles with the transition to the new Timeline
  • whether or not the Department of Homeland Security did covert surveillance of Facebook and Twitter
  • whether Facebook changed user’s privacy settings, making their private information more readily accessible

The Finance Industry Goes Social

Yahoo’s Finance site reported that debt collection agencies are now using social media to track down those who owe money. [2]

In the article, the CEO of the American Credit and Collections Association, Michelle Dunn, said if collection agencies get mail returned and they don’t have someone’s phone number, some collectors use Facebook to find a means of contact, like looking for home addresses and someone’s employment information.

In addition, she said some bill collectors will monitor the profiles of debtors, as a public social media presence can provide a lot of information about someone.

Protecting Your Identity Online

Fox Business reported that collections agencies are setting up phony Facebook accounts so they can friend request those who owe them money. [3] Once the friendship request is approved, your “new friend,” also known as the debt collector or collections agent, can read all about you. Fox Business recommends these safeguarding tips when posting online:

  • review your friend requests carefully
  • avoid posting to social networks about purchases or details about your finances
  • don’t post about tax breaks or refunds
  • never mention income whether from a full-time job or freelance work
  • examine what information of yours is available on social networks

By posting your whereabouts on Facebook, Foursquare, or other location-based social network applications, you could open yourself up to scrutiny by debt collectors or lenders.

Consumers should know that the law protecting consumers against debt collectors — the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act — has not been amended since 2006. According to Fox Business, the act includes nothing about debt collectors using Facebook or other social media sites.

Mashable recommends that consumers learn about privacy settings on all their social media accounts. [4] A good rule of thumb is to remember that “anything you say in the public domain is never truly anonymous,” per Mashable.

Before you post anything, evaluate what you are planning to reveal to your social media friends and followers. Whether you are posting to Facebook about a new job or posting about getting a raise, you should be careful what you post.

Finally, consider that everything you post online is traceable back to you. As stated in the Mashable article, all photos, Facebook posts, status updates, and “even ‘anonymous’ blog comments” can be traced back to you.

Conclusion

As a user of social media networks, you need to protect yourself from invasive contact from debt collections agents: online and offline. If you want to stop debt collectors from accessing your information, you need to remember that posting to your Facebook or Twitter isn’t writing in your diary.

Sources:

[1] http://epic.org/privacy/socialnet/

[2] http://finance.yahoo.com/news/pf_article_108692.html

[3] http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2010/10/07/disguised-debt-collectors-using-scary-social-media-tricks/

[4] http://mashable.com/2011/10/07/social-media-privacy-banks/

24 Comments »

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