How debt collectors could soon be able to reach you through social media

New federal regulations going into effect later this year will allow third party debtors to send you messages via social media.
Published: Feb. 1, 2021 at 10:31 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Your next DM on Facebook or Instagram could soon be from a debt collector. New regulations set to go in effect later this year will give third party debt collectors a wider reach.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, creditors are not allowed to harass consumers if they can’t pay a debt. The regulations in place hadn’t been updated since the 1970′s. The original rules made no mention of electronic communications because they did not exist back then.

“The regulations have not been updated for quite a while to reflect modern contemporary ways of communication,” said Sarah Orr, director of the Consumer Law Clinic at UW-Madison Law School.

The clinic provides consumers who cannot afford legal services with help while educating its students. Orr says the changes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act will give debt collection agencies more leeway. She says knowing what the new rules mean is especially important now, during a time when many are finding themselves going through financial challenges due to the pandemic.

“It is scary and it can be overwhelming for people especially if they have more than one account that they’re really concerned about,” said Orr.

She says it’s important to understand that the new regulations specifically apply to third party debt collectors or debt buyers. These are the companies that buy your debt for a significantly lower amount from the original creditors. Orr says these kind of debt collectors tend to be more aggressive. “They may have more incentive to cross the line and do things they’re not supposed to do because they don’t have a relationship with the consumer,” said Orr.

With so much financial pressure on many right now, consumers are encouraged to be proactive about addressing finances.

“You need to talk about money. You need to talk about it with your kids. You need to talk about it with your spouse or your partner,” said Dustin Struckmeyer.

Dustin and Scott Struckmeyer are competing in Season 12 of Project Money. They say the skills they are learning have helped them focus more on their finances right now but they can remember a time when things weren’t as easy.

“If you owe somebody money, they’re going to get a hold of you,” said Scott Struckmeyer.

For those who need to dig out of debt, it’s important to know your rights.

You have some time to prepare, these new rules go into effect at the end of the year.

Dealing with Debt: Knowing Your Rights

What you need to know
  • If a debt collector contacts you on social media they must give you the option to opt out.
  • Debt collectors can not post anything regarding your debt that the public can see, (Commenting on a photo or writing on your Facebook wall is a no)
  • You can tell debt collector when it’s okay to contact you.
  • Specify what numbers to use and which ones are not okay to use.
  • Consumer advocates say don’t post anything to social media you wouldn’t want a creditor to know

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