It was bound to happen sooner or later – debt collection by Facebook. Auto finance company MarkOne Financial, LLC began hounding Florida consumer Melanie Beacham mercilessly when she fell behind on her car payments. In one day, according to allegations in the lawsuit she filed against the company – the debt collector emailed her, texted her, called her at home, on her cell and at work – a total of 23 times. Soon after, the debt collector contacted Melanie’s sister via Facebook about the debt. So Melanie sued MarkOne in Pinellas (Florida) Circuit Court for debt harassment.
The suit is still pending, but in what is believed to be a case of first impression, the court this week made a preliminary ruling that debt collector MarkOne must immediately cease contacting Beacham, her family or her friends via Facebook or any other social networking site.
MarkOne has stated it only uses Facebook to obtain location information, as permitted by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act,but MarkOne had already called her at home and at work, so this statement obviously is not completely accurate.
The FDCPA contains no provisions specifically addressing the use of social media, but it certainly seems unquestionable that MarkOne used false and misleading means in attempting to collect a debt when it created a fake Facebook page under the name “Jeff Happenstance” in order to contact Melanie Beacham. And it also seems obvious that MarkOne violated the FDCPA’s prohibition against disclosure to third parties by posting on Melanie’s sister’s Facebook wall.
An April 17, 2011 article in the Orlando Sentinel indicates that Beacham’s lawyer is investigating almost a dozen other cases involving debt collectors using social media.
We’re sure to see more abuses of this type. We’ve already heard about – but not verified – a man in Chicago who accepted a friend request from a lovely lady in a bikini, then later found his new “friend” had posted on his wall, “Pay your debts, deadbeat.”
- Sheril Stanford