Collections and how we collect a debt have changed dramatically over the last 10 years. In the collections industry, we are accustomed to using skip tracing tools such as LexisNexis, Accurint, Credit Reporting, as well as the traditional methods of calling co-signers and references. We have added tools to our arsenal over the years, but have you ever considered adding Social Media to your collection mix?
In my most recent blog post, I talked about the prevalence of social media in today’s information-driven world, and some of the rules and regulations that financial institutions should consider following if they decide to use social media for marketing and promotions. Today, I want to talk about the opportunity to use social media for your collections and skip tracing efforts.
We all know that collections, and sometimes skip, are an inevitable part of lending, and unfortunately, those tasks can be tedious, time consuming, and inefficient for an institution’s staff to handle internally. The CFPB and the FFIEC have released a guide on social media and its use within collections. This 19-page document clarifies the guidelines and outlines the process that was used to determine those guidelines.
Within this guide is an outline of how to use social media in a collections capacity, while continuing to protect you and your borrowers. When it comes to complying with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the guide states that collectors should refrain from using social media to inappropriately contact borrowers, or their family or friends. Likewise, collectors should not, under any circumstances, disclose that the borrower owes a debt via social media.
However, as long as you are compliant, you can use social media as a tool to assist you in your skip tracing and collections efforts. Here are a few tips:
1. Reverse Email Search
You could use Facebook to track down a past-due borrower, but if his name is Michael Smith or something else similarly common, chances are you’re going to get quite a few Michael Smiths back in your search results. Facebook allows you to find people based on their email address, making your search much more productive. If you don’t participate in social media, you should spend some time learning at least a basic knowledge about the most popular platforms. People, including the debtor, spend many hours on these sites and know how to use them.
2. Google Alerts
If you're having trouble tracking down a past-due borrower, Google alerts sends you an email notification anytime topics that interest you are found—such as a debtor’s name.
3. Monitor Where Debtors “Check-In”
According to Lanie James, a social media specialist with Chesapeake Energy in Oklahoma City, many social media outlets now include geo-tracking software that allows members to sign in at different establishments such as bowling alleys, bars and restaurants. “People have developed this habit of logging in and checking in with Facebook or Twitter or Yelp,” said James. “They're leaving a trail of digital breadcrumbs without even know it.” And you can use it to your advantage to recover your assets.
So now that you have an idea of how to use social media in a collections and skip tracing capacity, here are some things to avoid:
Posting or commenting on someone’s public page about the debtor or their debts
Sending harassing or threatening messages
Contacting friends/family of the borrower
Posing as a person and friending the borrower on their social networking sites
Exercise common sense when it comes to not violating a debtor's privacy, but the fact is, most people haven't read the privacy statements of these social media outlets and therefore a lot of pertinent info is left public—such as their age, date of birth, photos of vehicles, employment info, links to other social media outlets; status updates may include when and where they shop, new jobs, major purchases such as homes, and income, and more. This is considered public information and can be used in your collections efforts.