HOUSTON - Debt collectors will be able to contact people with outstanding debts on social media starting next year.
That's alarming news for people falling behind on bills during this economic crisis.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says it will allow debt collectors to contact debtors using social media, text messages, and voicemail.
But consumer rights are still protected under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors still cannot make a debt public, so they won't be allowed to post about it on your social media page, only to send you private, direct messages. And they cannot make threats.
"They can't threaten your well being, your safety, they can't say they're going to contact a third party that's not authorized to talk about your account, they can't call your boss, they can't show up at your house, they can't send the police," explained Finacial Educator Thomas Nietzsche with Money Management International.
Debt collectors are not allowed to deceive debtors, such as trying to "friend" someone without disclosing they are a debt collector. They're also not allowed to trick your "friends" into revealing your location or assets.
They must give the debtor a way to opt-out of electronic communication. And debt collectors are not allowed to use social media until October of 2021, giving consumers a year to try to get your debts under control or make their social media accounts harder to find.
"It's very difficult when we meet with clients who come to us four months past due. If they had come to us two or three months past due, we could have helped them rehabilitate those accounts and keep them out of collections in the first place," said Nietzsche.
Here's advice from consumer advocates. Don't post information about your job, location, or finances where a debt collector or scam artist can see it.
When a debt collector does contact you, ask questions about the debt, but don't acknowledge you owe it. It could be a zombie debt that you don't owe anymore.
"It might be past your state's statute of limitations, which is between 3 and 10 years. And if it's further out than that, you're not actually legally required to pay it," said Nietzsche.
A certified credit counselor can help you deal with debt collectors and may even be able to negotiate a lower debt with your creditors for you.