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When Florida debt collectors go too far

For people struggling with debt, few things are more humiliating or frustrating than having a debt collector contact a family member. Not only is it humiliating, it is a violation of the debtor's privacy. That is why the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act made it illegal for creditors and collections agencies to communicate about a debtor's situation with any third party.

So how should this rule be interpreted now that "communication" and "contact" have become more difficult to define? This question came before a Florida judge recently. A woman owed $362 on a car loan, so a debt collections agency contract her and her family members on Facebook to try to obtain payment for that debt. The judge ordered the company to stop using Facebook to try to contact her and her family members.

This ruling draws a connection between calling a debtor's family member and friending that family member on Facebook. The woman said that Mark One Financial company used Facebook to communicate with her and her family members. She said they did this in addition to using traditional forms of communication such as telephone calls and paper letters. The woman argued that using Facebook for this kind of communication was a violation of her rights.

The judge agreed that using Facebook to ask the woman's family members to have her call the collections agency violated her privacy. As a result, the company was ordered to stop using social media websites to communicate with debtors' friends or family.

The judge went a step further, however, also ordering the collections company not to use Facebook to contact the debtor herself. This is likely because it was determined that using Facebook to contact the woman qualified as harassment, which is illegal.

Source: Forbes, "Debt Collectors And Generation Facebook," Stephanie Eidelman, 16 March 2011

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