Debt collectors could soon be sliding into your DMs, or trying to friend or follow you on social media.
The debt collection industry was recently allowed to expand its reach into social media platforms based on rule changes by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Perhaps not a welcome sight in any medium, debt collectors do have legitimate reasons for contacting consumers but with the permission to use social media comes some boundaries.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently updated its rules, allowing debt collectors to send direct messages on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Debt collectors can also friend request you, send emails and text messages too.
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"They can't post in a way that would be viewable to the general public or even just viewable to your social media contacts," said Attorney April Kuehnhoff with the National Consumer Law Center.
The National Consumer Law Center explains social media messages must be private, and a debt collector can’t post on your page or comment publicly.
They also must identify themselves as a debt collector in any social media messages and wait at least 14 days after messaging to tell the credit bureaus you defaulted on a debt.
The CFPB has said it will not tolerate "excessive messaging" but it's not clear how that translates to social media.
With phone call attempts, the CFPB defines excessive as "more than seven calls within seven days" about a single debt, and a call that goes to voicemail is counted.
But the CFBP has not defined "excessive" when it comes to social media attempts.
"While it might not be too clear to the consumer exactly what that line is, consumers do have rights," reminds Kuehnhoff.
Consumers have the right to opt out of social media contact by debt collectors. The new rules require debt collectors to provide a "simple way to opt out of receiving further communications from them on that social media platform."
If that doesn’t work, you can file a complaint with the CFPB.
The CFPB said it expects debt collectors to verify consumers' identities and underlying debt. It's a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the new rules to communicate with the wrong person about a debt.
For its part, the industry representing collectors -- the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals -- said it has "invested thousands of hours and significant resources into coming into compliance with the CFPB rules."
It added that, "consumers deserve to know about their options for resolving legal obligations through modern forms of communication."
One concern for privacy advocates is how will recipients of these types of social media message be able to differentiate between a legitimate contact and a phishing attempt.
The guidance is unclear, but everyone remains urged to not click on a link from any unknown party.
To learn more about consumers’ rights when contacted by a debt collector, click here.