FTC Highlights FDCPA Risks for Debt Collectors Using Social Media, Texts

by Ballard Spahr LLP

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently published a reminder to debt collectors of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) compliance risks that are created by the use of social media or text messages in connection with debt collection efforts.

The FTC highlights the following FDCPA prohibitions and requirements and provides examples of how the use of social media or text messages can violate such prohibitions or requirement:

  • Collectors cannot use deceptive means to collect a debt. The FTC discusses enforcement cases in which it has challenged the sending of texts that allegedly used false pretenses to get consumers to call back the debt collector. As an example, the FTC notes an enforcement action in which the debt collector was alleged to have sent text messages indicating that the consumer's payment using a card was declined and directing the debtor to call a designated phone number immediately. Other examples of deceptive actions given by the FTC are a request to join a debtor's social media (e.g. a Facebook ''friend request'') that does not disclose that the person reaching out to the consumer is a debt collector or an attempt to obtain location information about a consumer by using false pretenses to approach a friend or coworker. Such an attempt might involve the use of a fake Facebook account to send a friend request to a debtor's social connections as way to obtain address or asset information.
  • Collectors must provide certain disclosures in the initial communication and any subsequent communications with a debtor. The FTC notes that these disclosures are required in text messages.
  • Collectors cannot reveal the existence of the debt to a third party or publish ''a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts.'' The FTC notes that these prohibitions are particularly relevant in the social media context ''where a post on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr can instantly be viewed by others—and especially by consumers' social connections.''

Collectors cannot collect charges unless the charge is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law. The FTC notes that debt collectors cannot use social media or text messages to collect illegal charges.

The FTC also observes that some industry members use their websites and social media pages ''to offer helpful information for consumers'' and calls on the industry to ''consider whether lawfully using these platforms to offer general information can benefit both your company and consumers.''

In December 2013, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, whose members include the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), issued final supervisory guidance ''Social Media: Consumer Compliance Risk Management Guidance.'' The Guidance was intended to help financial institutions manage the risks of interacting with consumers through social media. Among the topics discussed in the Guidance was how the use of social media can run afoul of the FDCPA. In November 2013, the CFPB issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on debt collection. In response to the ANPR, industry commenters have asked the CFPB to provide exceptions and/or guidance as to how to give FDCPA disclosures with text messages.

While not mentioned in the FTC's blog, the use of text messages by debt collectors also raises Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) compliance issues. In particular, the TCPA requires ''prior express consent'' for prerecorded or autodialed collection calls, which include text messages, to a debtor's cell phone.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ballard Spahr LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Ballard Spahr LLP

Ballard Spahr LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.