New federal rules put into place by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) now allow debt collectors to text, email, or private message people on social media.
"The traditional mail and phone calls just aren't how people communicate as much anymore," said Michael Lawton, with Wisconsin's Department of Financial Institutions.
Lawton explains changes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act haven't happened since 1977. He stressed the new rules come with guidelines collection agencies are required to follow.
First, if collectors reach out on social media, the message has to be private. Also, the debt collector is required to identify themselves. Finally, they have to give you a simple way to opt out of receiving future messages.
Lawton points out even with the changes, consumers have rights if the messages start to become excessive.
"Contact the collection agency directly to demand that they cease all further contact with them," Lawton said.
There's always that chance that bad actors will pose as debt collectors and try to trick consumers into sending them money.
The Better Business Bureau says consumers should check with their organization to see if the debt collector is legitimate.
"We should have a full report if they are in business," said Lisa Schiller with the BBB.
"Utilize bbb.org, check on the company, check on those debt collectors that are contacting you through social media," Schiller stressed.
Schiller says you can also request a copy showing proof of your debt.
"If it doesn't feel right, more times than not, you're right," said Lawton.
He adds if you don't think you have a debt, that's the obvious red flag. He says other times, imposters try and threaten you with police.
"Are they threatening that you're going to be arrested? Or they're going to send the police to your door -- anything along those lines are the easiest signs of red flags," he added.
Lawton adds you can also contact the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions if you need help researching the collection agency or if you want to file a complaint.
TMJ4 contacted the CFPB for an interview. Instead, a spokesperson with the federal agency released the below statement:
o The debt collection rules, which were issued under the prior administration, make clear that debt collectors are breaking the law if they harass consumers via email, text, or a direct message on a social media platform. Harassment was not allowed before the new rules took effect, and it is not allowed now.
o We will be looking very carefully at how debt collectors are using new means of contacting consumers, including through social media.
o We want to hear from and help consumers experiencing problems with debt collectors. Consumers should visit the CFPB online at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/ to get details on how to submit complaints.
o We're not going to tolerate excessive emails, texts, or DMs, and we expect debt collectors to verify consumers' identities as well as the underlying debts. Far too many Americans are hounded to pay money they do not owe. It is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and the new rules, to communicate with the wrong person about a debt.
o The debt collection industry is on notice: they must treat consumers with respect, and we are going to enforce the law when we see violations.