A bill introduced in the New York State Senate last week would make it illegal for debt collectors and original creditors to use social media in their collection efforts. The bill uses vague language in its prohibitions, but its intent is very clear.
NY Senate bill 3803 was introduced February 17 and immediate referred to the Senate’s Consumer Protection Committee. Sen. Kevin Parker (D-Brooklyn) noted in the bill’s “purpose” language that the measure is meant to specifically “prevent debt collectors from using online contact information as a means to collect on a consumer debt.”
Parker cited media stories as the primary justification for the new rules. “Several news reports have revealed that debt collectors use the Internet, particularly social media websites, as a means to communicate with debtors and to try to collect on debts,” said Sen. Parker in the bill’s text. “This invasion of personal privacy should not be allowed in New York.”
As for the actual legal language that would prevent ARM firms and creditors from using social media, it’s fairly sparse and extremely vague. The bill makes it a violation to: “USE A SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE AS A MEANS TO COLLECT ON A CONSUMER CLAIM FROM A DEBTOR.”
The remainder of the text is dedicated to defining a “social networking website” and creating an exemption for email. Under this bill, email is specifically not considered a social network.
The ARM industry has long explored the use of social media for collection efforts, mostly using certain sites for location purposes. But rules governing the practice are either vague or nonexistent. New York’s bill may the first attempt to codify a restriction against using social media in debt collection.
Until the CFPB addresses social media in debt collection rules — or even more unlikely, the FDCPA is amended to include social media language – debt collectors should be extremely careful in the way they approach consumers on public social networks.