Debt collectors surfing Facebook for people who owe money

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Forget annoying phone calls, debt collectors are now coming after you on your Facebook page! Is it just a sign of the times, or harassment?

Facebook pages, like our own NBC12 one, are a great way to stay in touch and informed, but bill collectors are now looking for you on the social site.

Some aren't playing by the rules and that's frustrating one local debt collector.

Phonya Lewis is a debt collector.  But she has been on the receiving end.

"My bills got behind something as simple as that," said Lewis with The Lewis Collection Group in Midlothian.

She said threats came by phone for a $120 late payment.

"I remember one man telling me that if I didn't pay it he would send a hit man to my house," said Lewis.

Now debt collectors are surfing Facebook profiles.

"What you don't want to put on there is specific information, say, about your new vacation home or something along the lines of your job, your new promotion and bragging about your bonus," said Attorney Clinton David.

In Florida, a judge ruled one crossed the line by using the social networking site to harass a woman about a past due car payment.

Harassment is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

"I can't believe a corporate company would tell their associates to actually do that," said Lewis.

Many of you feel the same way as dozens commented on our NBC12 Facebook page.

"It seems a little inappropriate," said Kittie Storey of Richmond.

"It is bullying that is exactly what it is," said Phyllis Pearson of Henrico.

"I would use it to maybe locate the person find out where they are," said Lewis.

Lewis said the harassment she experienced launched her into the industry.

A compassionate approach works for her.

"You talk to them find out what's going on, what their situation is, and once you know their situation you can negotiate a payment on the bill," said Lewis.

Lewis advises people to keep record of any such harassment and report it.

The Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs said it hasn't received complaints about debt collectors harassing people on Facebook in this state.

The Federal Trade Commission will hold a workshop in Washington, D.C. later this month about debt collection and social media.

Copyright 2011 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.