Social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn, can serve as productive and efficient means of staying in touch personally, professionally, and politically; just ask young people in Egypt. However, careless use of such sites poses very real risks to one’s personal privacy, and potentially one’s employment. In fact, lawyers, bill collectors and credit investigators are using these sites to gather information on consumers and others; and using that information in ways the targets probably would not like.
In a recent article, for example, Paul and Sarah Edwards explained that “[p]eople say a lot about their lives on social media, which is how these sites can be used to determine if an individual or company is credit-worthy or, when they are in arrears, to get a bead on whether they can pay their bills.”
This is just one more vehicle creditors are using as they continue to become more aggressive in pursuing debts. Some of these sites allow you to list your employment or contact information; and have the potential to cause serious problems if you are in a situation where you could have your wages garnished. Social media sites are becoming treasure troves of personal data for lawyers (government as well as private-practice lawyers) to build or support prosecutions or lawsuits.
Those pictures on your profile or status updates about a new purchase, a raise or your income tax return provide creditors evidence about your ability to pay your debts. Michelle Dunn, an expert on credit and debt collection, explains, “[f]or one or two hours a week, you can obtain information that in the past you might have needed to hire a skip tracer to find.”
These new sites can be useful tools for networking and catching up with old friends. But they can also put you at risk if you reveal too much information about yourself and your lifestyle. Disclosing certain personal information, despite the fact that you consider it “private,” could pose a very real threat to your financial future. Be careful who you are adding as friends, what you reveal about your spending habits, and keep your employer off these sites. You never know who is out there gathering information on you.
- by Bob Barr, The Barr Code