Debt collectors in US can now DM you on social media

Collection calls rank as the biggest pet peeve of American consumers, with the CFPB receiving more complaints about debt collectors every year than on any other issue.

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Debt collectors are now allowed to slide into your DMs, according to new financial regulations that went into effect on Tuesday allowing debt collectors to contact people via their social media accounts. 

In essence, that means your Twitter and Facebook Messenger accounts could soon receive messages from debt collectors seeking to track down an unpaid bill. The change could impact tens of millions of Americans, given that one-third of U.S. adults with a credit report has a debt in collections. 

Under the new Debt Collection Rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, debt collectors must abide by some restrictions — but consumer advocates warn that these may not be enough to prevent harm to some debtors. For one, debt collectors don’t need a consumer’s permission to reach out via social media, and the rule doesn’t limit the number of messages they can send. 

There are some limitations, however. For one, a debt collector must send private messages that aren’t viewable by your friends or the public. In other words, they can’t post publicly on your Facebook page about an overdue bill. 

Still, consumer advocates say that doesn’t go far enough, even though the messages are supposed to be private.

“Even with direct messages, there are risks that messages will go to the wrong people,” April Kuehnhoff, staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, told CBS MoneyWatch.”For example, if a debt collector wants to send a private message to John Smith on Facebook, the collector will need to select the correct John Smith so that it does not send private information about the alleged debt to the wrong person.”

She added, “The new rules require a disclosure that the friend request is from a debt collector, but consumers will need to be vigilant for this information to avoid granting a debt collector access to private information that they share with social media contacts.”

Consumers can also opt-out of social media messages from debt collectors, although that puts the onus on them to take a step to halt the messages. And it’s also possible that some consumers could miss DMs from debt collectors if a filter sends the messages to spam or the debt collectors are relying on outdated information, the NCLC said. 

The new rule from the CFPB, which is charged with protecting Americans from financial abuse, was cleared more than a year ago and includes the ability for debt collectors to text consumers. The debt collection industry has argued that the new rule is necessary given the changes in communication since the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which regulates their industry, was signed into law in 1977.

At the time, there was no texting, social media or widespread email. Debt collectors say the new rule puts them on a “level playing field” with other financial companies and allows them to contact consumers via their preferred method, such as email or texting. 

“[t] is a small step forward in modernizing communications with consumers,” Mark Neeb, CEO of the debt collector trade group ACA International, said in a statement sent to CBS MoneyWatch.

Limits on phone calls

The new law adds a new limit for debt collectors: They won’t be able to call more than seven times in one week about a specific debt. Prior to this, there was no cap on the number of times a collector could call a consumer, although it had a restriction against calling so many times that it would count as harassment.

Consumer advocates point out that this could still result in a lot phone calls — someone with five medical debts in collections could receive up to 35 calls a week, the NCLC noted.

Collection calls rank as the biggest pet peeve of American consumers, with the CFPB receiving more complaints about debt collectors every year than on any other issue. 

The new rule also limits a debt collector from contacting a consumer within a week after talking with them on the phone about a debt. However, these new rules don’t apply to emails, text messages and social media messages, the CFPB said.