Is social media leaving you vulnerable to debt collectors?

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When people get into financial difficulties, life is stressful enough. However, if things get to the stage where your debt is sold onto debt collectors, you could find yourself falling prey to a number of unscrupulous tactics designed to make life so difficult that you are forced to pay up.

And there's a risk they could use your social networking against you.

The rules

Debt collectors work on the basis that if they push you to repay a debt, most people will suddenly prioritise that particular debt, and there's a better chance of it being paid.

They have to abide by particular rules, which prevent them from making your life a misery. They have to, for example, only contact you at reasonable times, avoid coming into your home unless you invite them in, and leave your property if you ask them to.

They are not allowed to contact you in inappropriate places, harass you by calling frequently or making threatening statements, or pressure you into paying in full or large installments.

However, not every collector is assiduous about following the rules. Some use every opportunity to bully you into paying - including social networking.

Social networking

The problem first hit the headlines in 2010, when a woman in Florida was hounded by a debt collector through Facebook. He contacted her friends and put them under pressure to force her to pay the loan back.

It promoted Facebook to warn debt collectors against this sort of thing - as it violates the company's policy prohibiting members from threatening or intimidating other users.

However Stepchange, the UK debt charity says that people using its services have complained about similar tactics in the UK.

What can you do?

If you are being chased for a debt, then it's a sign that you need to get your borrowing back under control. It's worth getting hold of your credit report from a company like Experian, to see exactly where you stand. If you have room in your budget you should start repaying what you can afford as soon as possible. If you cannot see how you can afford it, you may need to contact a debt charity for help.

In the interim, Stepchange recommends useful steps to keep debt collectors away from your social networks.
  • Don't email debt collectors, because it will enable them to search for you on social networks. Instead, only communicate by letter - and keep a record of everything you send.
  • If you are approached by a debt collector on social media, don't respond.
  • Never instant message (IM) anyone you don't know.
  • Do a Google search for your name – does a social media or website profile or any of your conversations come up in the results? If they do, make the pages private.
  • Change your privacy settings, so your profile isn't public.
  • Be wary of anyone that wants to follow or friend you who you don't know personally.