Personal Finance: Finding debtors on Facebook

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Michelle Singletary
Thursday, December 2, 2010; 9:44 AM

When it come to debt collectors trying to track down debtors, one might say all is fair in the world of Facebook.

At least that's how things went for one Florida woman who is suing a debt collection company for sending her messages on Facebook about a $362 car loan debt. She's also upset the company contacted family members in an effort to get them to have her call the agency.

As the Associated Press reported, the collection agency, Mark One, used Melanie Beacham's Facebook profile to reach out to her. Beacham was not too pleased about this. Her lawsuit claims that Mark One contacted her six to 10 times a day by phone, sent her a text message, contacted her neighbor and sent a courier to deliver a letter to her workplace.

"It's an invasion of privacy on steroids," said Billy Howard, Beacham's attorney.

Senators Al Franken (D-Minn.) and George LeMieux (R-Fla.) have proposed legislation to stop online harassment by debt collectors. Some of its provisions include prohibiting debt collectors from seeking arrest warrants to collect on debts and increasing penalties on debt collectors who break the law to discourage them from employing bad practices.

"Unscrupulous debt collectors are using every tool at their disposal to make a buck, sometimes targeting the wrong person, going after debts that have already been collected, or harassing family members," Franken said in a release about the legislation. The legislation doesn't specifically prevent creditors from finding people on Facebook.

So what's my take?

If the debt collection agency used Facebook to harass the Florida woman, the company should be punished. However, if the company simply used its smarts to track down a debtor that truly owed the money, I can't fault them for that.

There is no question that there are some unsavory, sleazy, nasty collection agencies out there. I would not help them collect a penny. But there are also people running from their debts or ignoring them. That's not right either. And if you put your business on Facebook, chronicling every trifling detail of your life, then hey, you open yourself up to being tracked down.

That's what I think. What about you? This week's Color of Money Question: Should debt collection companies be able to use social media sites such as Facebook to track down debtors? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com and put "Finding Debtors on Facebook" in the subject line.

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