ST. PETERSBURG (AP) - A Florida judge has ordered a debt collection agency to not use Facebook - or any other social media site - in an attempt to locate a woman for a $362 unpaid car loan.
Judge W. Douglas Baird also ordered Mark One Financial LLC of Jacksonville, Fla. to not contact the woman's family or friends on Facebook.
The order is part of a lawsuit filed Aug. 2010 by Melanie Beacham, who is suing the debt collection agency. According to court documents, Beacham said Mark One sent her messages on Facebook and sent messages to her family on the social networking site to have her call the agency regarding the debt.
Beacham's attorney, Billy Howard of the Morgan and Morgan law firm in Tampa, said the debt collectors violated Beacham's privacy and Florida's consumer protection law, which prohibits collectors from harassing people.
Howard said that in the past four months, nearly a dozen potential clients have contacted him because debt collectors have used social media sites to track them down.
"It's the beginning of an epidemic," Howard said. "It's another weapon debt collectors can use."
Beacham's also claims that Mark One contacted her six to 10 times a day by phone, sent her a text message, contacted her neighbor and sent a courier to deliver a letter to her workplace. Beacham at one point took the license plate off her car, telling the debt collector in a text message to just take it away and stop contacting her, according to court documents.
Mark One did not return a message from The Associated Press on Wednesday. Last November, the agency said it would not discuss Beacham's case and denied any wrongdoing. The company acknowledged that its collectors use Facebook to find people when they don't respond to other means, like letters and phone calls.
Social media experts and lawyers like Howard say that debt collectors are increasingly using new tactics to contact people who owe money.
In one Chicago case, a man was friended on Facebook by a young woman in a bikini. The account turned out to be a debt collector's, something the man realized only when the "friend" posted a message on his wall: "Pay your debts, you deadbeat."