Melanie Beacham, a Florida woman who had fallen behind in her car payments, was contacted by a debt collector who emailed her, texted her, called her at home, on her cell and at work — over 23 times in one day.
Beacham filed a harassment lawsuit against the company and a judge ruled last month that the company can no longer contact Beacham, her family or friends on Facebook or any other social-networking site.
It’s the first court decision of its kind and serves as a warning for debt collectors to tread lightly when using social networks to collect monies owed.
The decision sets a precedence but the original suit, in which Beacham alleges harassment, is still pending in court.
Debt collectors’ use of social media has become a major issue, so much so that other cases are popping up with similar situations.
Beacham’s attorney, has now took on a similar case and filed another harassment lawsuit concerning the same company, MarkOne financial, sending messages through social media..
In that case, the plaintiff accused MarkOne representatives of sending messages on Facebook, asking her to call them, even though they had contacted her several times by phone already, according to the lawsuit filed March 31.
Howard has about 10 other cases his firm is investigating that involve debt collectors using social media to contact debtors.
“This is a new age of harassment,” Howard said. ”
A couple of key strokes you can use one of the oldest debt collectors’ tricks there is … that is, to contact family members and friends. Most harassment is one-on-one, but when you bring in family members and friends that’s when you really turn up the psychological pressure on people.”
MarkOne has yet to respond publicly to the lawsuits.
Mark Schiffman, public affairs director for the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals notes that creditors use of social media is a sticky situation, stating:
It’s dangerous ground because it’s new ground. Like anything, case law gets built because of challenges to how people are using something.
We encourage [collection agencies] to make sure they are very careful in following the law.
We all know that facebook and twitter breeds all kinds of stalkers… but is there really an invisible line that debt collectors shouldn’t cross?