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Remember the paper boy in Better Off Dead -- the psycho tyke who chased John Cusak around, demanding his two dollars? Yeah, we all laughed about the little dude's persistence, but truth of the matter is, creditors like that kid make their living by being tenacious, tracking down borrowers wherever they are. And where they are these days is on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
Earlier this summer, there were numerous accounts of lenders using Facebook and Twitter to determine the creditworthiness of loan applicants. According to those reports, posting a Facebook update like, "I just got fired!" or "I'm heading to Vegas to blow my inheritance!" could cause creditors to ratchet up your loan rate. In some instances, it might prevent you from scoring a loan at all.
Then, Facebook simplified its byzantine privacy policies, making it easier for users to hide most of their info from strangers, including status updates. In light of all that, creditors began to wonder how they could regain access to all your personal information. The answer? By friending you, of course.
Of course, ABC Loan Servicing Corp. doesn't send out friend requests with photos of Bob and Alice from Accounts Receivable -- well, not unless Bob and Alice boast 3% body fat and buff silhouettes. Some lenders allegedly disguise themselves as cute girls and guys in an attempt to breach your friendship wall so they can see what you're up to and, eventually, contact you. On Twitter, it's even easier: so few of us protect our Twitter feeds that creditors don't have to resort to subterfuge at all. They can keep tabs on us with just one click.
But how do companies find borrowers' social media accounts in the first place? Through any number of publicly available search engines, that's how. Pipl.com is a great example (go ahead, try it on yourself), and there are many, many others. If you have Gmail, you don't even have to leave your inbox to learn about your contacts: just add the Rapportive extension to Firefox, Safari, or Chrome, then mouse over a contact's name. Any social network accounts linked to that email addy will pop up in the right-hand column. Creepy, right?
While all this sounds pretty shady, the practice of dodging phone calls from your auto lender isn't exactly upstanding behavior either. So, according to volume one of the Playground Rules, we suppose what's fair is fair -- but we don't have to like it.