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Facebook: Not Just for Finding Hot Dates Anymore

posted by Nathalie Martin

In a case referred to as an “invasion of privacy on steroids,” a recent debt collector used Facebook to contact a debtor and demand payment of a $362 car loan. The company, Mark LLC out of Florida, told Melanie Beacham's family and friends on the social network site to have Melanie call them. Now Melanie is suing the debt collection agency for  various violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act, including the Facebook fiasco, calling her six to 10 times a day by phone, sending text messages, contacting a neighbor, and sending a courier to deliver a letter to her workplace.Beacham's attorney has asked a judge to prohibit Mark One from contacting her or her family through Facebook or Twitter.This is obviously not the first time Facebook has been used in this way. Jeffrey Hyslip, a Chicago lawyer, said he had one client who was friended on Facebook by a young woman in a bikini. The account turned out to be a debt collector's, something his client realized only when the "friend" posted a message on his wall: "Pay your debts, you deadbeat."


NPR did an interview with a debtor and a debt collector on this issue. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128464415&ps=cprs) Debt collectors seem pretty excited about using fb because of the wealth of information that people post publicly (or that fb's privacy policy allows to be viewed). The debt collector interviewed had a much stronger view of his right to do this on his own blog. (http://www.michigancollectionlawblog.com/2010/07/who_looks_silly_now_npr_1.html)

My question on the issue is this - do fb users have different expectations of privacy and needs for disclosure? Before the Congress flipped this past election cycle, it looked like the FDCPA might get an overhaul. It may be that people are less worried about disclosures and privacy now and are more worried about the fairness of debt collection (fees, outrageous interest rates, incorrect information, etc.).

Granted that using deceptive "friends" on fb to get to your information may be pretty unfair, it's not unusual. Music promoters and other advertisers are using that same information all the time to figure us out and to post promos on walls, etc. I don't think I'm alone in having had fake online personae asking to friend me in order to sell me something. If it's OK when my friends and family allow those advertisers into our circle, how is a debt collector that much different?

I know somebody who owns a car rental station. Some weeks ago, a woman did not bring back the car she rented, the police was busy because of the CASTOR (a German thing), so they looked her up on Facebook, contacted her and her friends and got the car back. No kidding.

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