Collectors Are Tracking Down Debtors Through Social Media

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In debt? Mind your Facebook wall. Debt collection agencies are now turning to social networks to track down on-the-run debtors by cataloging tidbits of evidence that may prove you have money to spare.

(More on Techland: AMBER Alerts Are Now Dispatched Via Facebook)

A recent story claims that investigators turn to Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and even Twitter and Foursquare to not only seek out the location of past-due defaulters, but to search through online profiles for proof of shopping trips, vacations – even phone numbers and employment info. Michelle Dunn, a former collector turned “how-to” collection author, said that agencies scour specific sites depending on the type of debt a person holds. “Most are using Facebook for consumer debt,” she told, “but for the younger set would be MySpace. Business-to-business credit would be LinkedIn.”

Even your friends’ accounts could be considered valid proof of your ability to pay up, meaning the next time you and a friend wait in line for the latest gaming console and he tweets as much, you’re more or less screwed. (It’s fratricide 2.0.) And yes, they really can do that. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the rule book for all third-party collectors, was passed before the Web boom in 1978 and hasn’t been updated since. Under current regulations, your digital social sphere is fair game, so long as they’re only looking. A friend request or message on any social site from creditor to debtor would be a violation of the rules, which seems sensible. As for collectors, they’ve got their own place in cyberspace to swap war stories. is “like Facebook for collectors,” and a place for professionals to trade tips and even debate ethics.

(More on Techland: 5 Tips For A Savvier Facebook Profile)

But how to keep the collection agencies from using your new t-shirt against you? Privacy settings. Keep strangers out of your profiles. Period. Or you might – quite literally – pay for it.