Debt Collectors as the New Online Predators

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As I've noted on many occasions, predators of all sorts lurk behind computer screens, slithering through profiles and personal data searching for a vulnerable target.  We've heard of identity thieves, fraudsters and even sexual predators whose sole task seems to be luring unsuspecting potential victims into their traps.  Now comes word of a new type of predator that we all need to avoid: debt collectors.

You read that right: debt collectors.  In the same way that identity thieves and scam artists use social networking sites like Facebook to track susceptible prey, debt collectors are haunting the same sites hoping to locate and rope in people they consider debtors.

One consumer who was pursued across the Internet recently filed a lawsuit seeking $15,000 in damages after an aggressive debt collector from MarkOne Financial of Tampa, FL found her on Facebook.  She sued for emotional distress and punitive damages to counteract the effect of the collector's tricks aimed at making good on an alleged auto loan debt of $1,172. 

In her suit, Melanie Beacham claims the debt collector pretended to be "Jeff Happenstance" and became her "friend" on Facebook.  "Jeff" then contacted Ms. Beacham's Facebook friends, urging them to tell Beacham to call him.  These practices can be viewed as direct and knowing violations of her rights according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  He continued to flood her cell phone, home and work numbers--ten times a day! --with calls and messages.  He even sent a courier-delivered letter to her job attempting to set up a re-payment schedule of the alleged debt.

This appears to be harassment, pure and simple.  We should all be free to socialize online without the threat of a debt collector hanging over our heads.  There are rules about when, where, and how often a debt collector can contact a target, and Ms. Beacham believes those rules were violated.  So do I.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act has strict guidelines about what  debt collectors can -and cannot do! Remember, knowledge is power.  Know your rights!  The National Association of Consumer Advocates provides a useful rule of thumb for judging whether a debt collector's behavior crosses the line from diligence to harassment: If your mother would be upset about you treating other people the way that you were treated by the debt collector, then the conduct probably violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Listen to your instinct (in the voice of your mother, if you like) and don't put up with strong-arm tactics.

Here's a short video provided by ABC News;

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