Bill collectors are increasingly turning to Facebook to make embarrassing posts on debtors’ wall in an effort to shame them into paying up. This state of Florida has ruled this action illegal in what’s believed to be a precedent setting case, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
Interestingly, it’s not illegal for somebody who owns a business and is acting as their own collection agent to tell every last person out there that you owe them money. It’s only illegal when a third party does it — unless they can’t track you down any other way.
I think about a restaurant I frequent that used to accept checks. This restaurant is located in an affluent area. From time to time, they had wealthy individuals come in and eat and then write rubber checks. So they put up a “Hall of Shame” bulletin board and would post those NSF checks. People did not like being on the board! They would rush to come in and make their checks good, which got them taken off the board. This is an example of a business owner using public shaming in a completely acceptable way.
The problem only comes, as I said, when it’s a third-party collection agency trying to shame you by talking to others because contacting you hasn’t had the desired results.
We have the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and that governs what a third-party collection agency can and can’t do. Legitimate collectors follow this law, but rogue players don’t. The rogues may try to collect from people who don’t actually owe the debt. They may also harass you by calling repeatedly about a debt. (You have the right to tell them to never call you again, which you can do by sending a drop dead letter.)
If you owe a debt, it is your responsibility to pay that debt. Period. You can be sued against that debt. You can be locked up for not paying on a debt. If the debt is rightfully yours and is put on your credit report, it will stay there for 7 years — except for Chapter 7 bankruptcy which stays on your report for 10 years.
If you’re served with notice by a debt collector and the debt is not rightfully yours or is too old to be legally enforceable, here’s what you need to know to protect yourself:
- If you are either served court papers or contacted by a collector by phone or in writing, you must show up in court (in the first instance) or answer by certified mail return receipt requested (in the second instance.)
- You have 2 basic defenses, whether replying in person or by letter: Either you know the debt is not yours, in which case you ask them to prove otherwise; or if it is yours and it’s past the statute of limitations, you tell them that it’s no longer legally enforceable in your state.