In an effort to collect $362 in unpaid debt on a car loan, collection agency Mark One Financial LLC contacted a Florida woman six to 10 times every day by phone, texted her, contacted her neighbor, and couriered a collection letter to her workplace. It also contacted her on Facebook — and sent Facebook messages to her friends and family, asking them to urge her to call the agency. After months of creditor harassment, she filed suit against the company in August, claiming that Mark One violated her privacy and the Florida Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

This week, Pinellas County Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird issued an injunction against Mark One, ordering them to stop contacting the woman, her family, or her friends via Facebook. While the ruling has no affect on other cases, it is still a victory for the millions of people dealing with unmanageable consumer and credit card debt.

Facebook creditor harassment is on the rise in Florida and nationwide

Debt collectors are increasingly using Facebook and other social networking sites to track down debtors. Last November, Mark One acknowledged that its debt collectors do contact people on Facebook when debtors don’t respond to their letters and phone calls but denied any wrongdoing.

According to the woman’s attorney, however, he’s had calls from nearly a dozen potential clients complaining about debt collectors’ abusive use of social media sites to harass them.

“It’s the beginning of an epidemic,” the lawyer said.

Far from simply contacting recalcitrant debtors, many debt collection agencies have been accused of tricking people, lying, and contacting debtors’ friends and family in an effort to embarrass and shame debtors into paying.

According to the Associated Press, a Chicago man received a Facebook “friend” request from a pretty girl in a bikini. He didn’t know the account actually belonged to a collection agency, and only realized it when the user placed a public posting on his Facebook wall saying “Pay your debts, you deadbeat.”

Under the Florida Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and most states’ statutes, there are a number of tactics debt collectors are prohibited from using in attempts to collect. Some that might apply to Facebook creditor harassment include:

  • Disclosing information about a debtor to third parties when that information could affect the debtor’s reputation
  • Communicating with the debtor with such frequency as to constitute harassment, or engage in other abusive or harassing conduct
  • Using profane, obscene, vulgar or willfully abusive language
  • Publishing or posting individual debtors’ names in an effort to shame them

If Mark One is found to have violated the Florida Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they could be ordered to pay the woman for her damages, court costs and attorney’s fees, as well as punitive damages.

Mark One has declined to comment on the case.

Source: The Washington Post, “Judge: debt agency can’t contact woman on Facebook,” Tamara Lush, March 9, 2011