New Rules: CFPB Clarifies How Debt Collectors Can Contact You on Social Media

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Watch out who you’re friending on social media, as it might be a debt collector.

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New rules approved by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that became effective on Nov. 30 clarified certain provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

“We are finally leaving 1977 behind and developing a debt collection system that works for consumers and industry in the modern world,” Kathleen L. Kraninger, the former CFPB director who oversaw the rule changes, said in a blog post last year.

The new rules give consumers the option to unsubscribe from receiving text messages and emails from debt collectors and otherwise limit ways debt collectors contact them. It also clarifies the use of voicemails and other messages left by debt collectors, according to the CFPG.

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First, the message must be private. A debt collector cannot contact you on social media about a debt if the message is viewable by the general public or viewable by your friends, contacts or followers on the platform, according to CFPB. This would include your publicly visible profile page or any part of the platform where other people can see the message.

In addition, the debt collector must identify themself. If a debt collector attempts to send you a private message requesting to add you as a friend or contact, the debt collector must identify themself as a debt collector, the CFPB said.

Finally, they must include a way for you to stop receiving messages from them.

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Even when a debt collector properly identifies themself in a private social media message, they must give you a simple way to opt out of receiving further communications from them on that social media platform.

“One of my priorities as Director is to ensure that the Bureau prevents consumer harm by using all of the tools given to us by Congress. The Bureau was granted the authority to write rules on debt collection practices and the changes will provide better protection for consumers, clearer operating procedures for debt collectors intent on following the law, and easier identification of the bad actors we will take action against,” she wrote at the time.

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“Debt collection is a multi-billion dollar industry with more than 8,000 debt collection firms in the United States. The 1977 Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits harassing and abusive and unfair debt collection practices as well as false and misleading representations by debt collectors,” Kraninger wrote in the post. “Our rule applies these protections to modern technologies. The rule clarifies how debt collectors can use email, text messages, social media, and other contemporary methods to communicate with consumers. And our rule will allow consumers, if they prefer, to limit the ability of debt collectors to communicate with them through these newer communication methods.”

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About the Author

Yaël Bizouati-Kennedy is a full-time financial journalist and has written for several publications, including Dow Jones, The Financial Times Group, Bloomberg and Business Insider. She also worked as a vice president/senior content writer for major NYC-based financial companies, including New York Life and MSCI. Yaël is now freelancing and most recently, she co-authored  the book “Blockchain for Medical Research: Accelerating Trust in Healthcare,” with Dr. Sean Manion. (CRC Press, April 2020) She holds two master’s degrees, including one in Journalism from New York University and one in Russian Studies from Université Toulouse-Jean Jaurès, France.
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