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Debt collectors target Facebook to get money back

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Image caption Debt collectors are increasingly using social networking sites to target debtors

The Office of Fair Trading is warning debt collectors not to pursue people who owe them money on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

It is concerned that embarrassing details about their financial problems will be revealed on the internet.

The OFT received complaints from debtors who were being pressurised online to pay off loans.

The regulator says it could strip perpetrators of their consumer credit licences to deter the practice.

The debt advice charity the Consumer Credit Counselling Service (CCCS) welcomed the new rules.

"Many debtors are understandably anxious to keep their debt problems private from friends and work colleagues - and the possibility of being contacted by a debt collector on Facebook or Twitter causes serious worry for many," Delroy Corinaldi of the CCCS said.

'Vulnerable' online

The Office of Fair Trading has published updated debt collection guidance.

It sets out the standards expected of debt collectors, banks, law firms and any business associated with debt recovery.

David Fisher, the OFT's director of consumer credit, said: "In the present economic climate, with many people, including those who may be particularly vulnerable, in financial difficulties, it is crucial they are treated fairly by companies recovering their debts."

It is particularly worried because of the public nature of websites such as Twitter and Facebook, where friends and business contacts can sometimes see messages being sent to an individual.

A previous tactic of lenders, debt collection agencies and firms who buy up debts was to put cards through the letterbox or leave phone messages which might be picked up by other family members.

Some firms view the internet as the next place to look.

Complaints

The Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) said in the six months from April to September, it had received 357 new complaints about debt collecting.

That was 59% up on the previous six months.

"We are currently upholding around one in three debt-collecting complaints referred to the ombudsman service in favour of the consumer," said an FOS spokesman.

The main areas of complaint were about harassment by debt collectors, being chased for debts people did not owe, and being chased for a debt when a repayment plan had been agreed with the creditor, or even when it had been paid.

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