Car being loaded onto flat bed tow truckEnlarge Photo
Late last summer, we sent a warning to anyone who might be behind on a car note, credit card, or mortgage: don't accept that mysterious Facebook friend request! At the time, we'd begun hearing stories about creditors tracking borrowers' activities on social networks, then using those same networks to contact them when they fell behind on payments. Scary stuff, right?
Melanie Beacham learned first-hand just how scary that could be: when Beacham fell behind on her car loan, she alleges that Mark One Financial, LLC of Jacksonville, Florida began harassing her, contacting her between six and ten times each day via phone, text message, and Facebook. Beacham says that Mark One often sent messages to her family, friends, and neighbors, too, asking them to have her contact the agency. According to Beacham, she even tried to give the car back, but to no avail.
Fortunately for her, Florida has strict consumer protection laws that protect borrowers from harassment. In state court, Judge W. Douglas Baird determined that Mark One had crossed the line and ordered the agency to stop contacting Ms. Beacham, her family, or friends through social networks, particularly Facebook. (Presumably, the agency can still use the tried-and-true methods of phone calls and certified mail to collect the $362 she still owes -- though if the company were smart, it would probably just write off the loss.)
But just because Beacham had her proverbial day in court doesn't mean that every consumer would've been so lucky. In states with looser consumer protection laws, the threshold for harassment is higher, giving creditors more opportunities to track down borrowers both in real life and online. As social networking continues to grow in popularity (FYI: today's fastest-growing Facebook demographic is women age 55 - 65), an increasing number of creditors will use those networks to track down debtors, and debtors will find it harder and harder to dodge the bullet.
Our advice? Stay up-to-date on your bills, communicate directly with lenders if you're unable to make payments, and keep your privacy settings high.