Debt collectors can text, email and message you on social media now

Don't be surprised if debt collectors slide into your DMs. A new rule allows debt collectors to contact you on social media, text or email — not just by phone.

The rule, which was approved last year by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's former president Kathleen L. Kraninger, took effect Tuesday, Nov. 30. In a 2020 blog post about the changes, Kraninger wrote that debt collectors were working with outdated standards that have not been changed since 1977, and that the new rule reflects the use of modern technologies.

The rule also clarifies restrictions on how debt collectors can contact you, as defined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Collectors must clearly identify themselves, only send private messages and as part of their message, offer an opt-out option for receiving further messages when reaching out through social media, email or texts.

As for phone calls, debt collectors were already restricted to only seven calls within seven days, but the new rule clarifies that calls which go straight to voicemail are counted as contact by phone.

Despite these protections, consumer advocates argue that the new rules expose people to increased harassment from unscrupulous lenders.

"Contacting borrowers on social media is very invasive, beyond just catching up with the technology that we have now. I think it could encourage misconduct by allowing debt collectors to seek out people's private social media accounts," says Andrea Bopp Stark, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center.

Because the rule is applied per debt claim, people with three or four outstanding debts already have to deal with as many calls in a given day, Bopp Stark says. By adding emails, texts and social media as ways of communicating with borrowers, the new rule only makes it easier for debt collectors to harass people, even with the opt-out option, she argues.

Plus, it's not yet clear how the opt-out options will work, or how to differentiate them from possible phishing scams. The FTC already cautions against clicking on hyperlinks in unsolicited texts, emails and social media messages, and recommends independently verifying that the sender is legitimate.

However, this isn't always easy for many Americans who either don't have regular access to broadband internet or are not technologically savvy, says Bopp Stark.

"These changes will affect people that need protection the most," she says. "It's opening the door to possible abuse and coercion, with people feeling like they have to click on something that might be dangerous or do something they normally wouldn't be comfortable doing."

Know your rights as a borrower

Debt collectors are required to provide the following information when requesting payment for outstanding debt, according to the CFPB:  

  • The name of the creditor
  • The amount owed
  • That you can dispute the debt
  • That you can request the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor

For more on your rights as a consumer, check out these guidelines. If a collector is harassing you, submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling 855-411-2372, as well as with the Federal Trade Commission online or by calling 877-382-4357. You can also report them to your state's attorney general.

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