A Florida woman has sued an auto loan financing company for reportedly using Facebook to launch a debt collection campaign designed to embarrass and intimidate her into paying her debt.
When Melanie Beacham alerted her auto finance company, Mark One Financial, that a pay cut at work, coupled with a medical leave of absence, would likely make her fall behind on her monthly $362 car payments, the company offered to defer her payments temporarily as a stop-gap debt relief plan.
Initially, âI was able to make the car payment.,â Beacham told WKMG TV in Orlando. âMy dad was helping me with the car payment, but I couldnât keep putting that stress and pressure on himâ (âCompany Sued for Collecting Debt on Facebook,â WKMG TV, Sept. 20, 2010).
Two months later, after Beacham fell behind on her payments, Mark One representatives began calling her as often as 20 times a day and used Facebook to contact her, her cousin, and her sister, according to Beachamâs court filings.
Mark One allegedly used the pseudonym âJeff Happenstanceâ to send messages to Beachamâs cousin, as well as her sister, who lives in Georgia. The messages disclosed Beachamâs financial situation and asked the recipients to have Beacham call a number, which led back to a debt collection agent at Mark Oneâs offices (âWoman Sues Debt Collectors Over Alleged Facebook Harassment,â The Huffington Post, Nov. 17, 2010).
âI donât know why they would go on Facebook and contact my family,â Beacham told WKMG.
Debt Collection Campaign âPsychological Warfareâ
Beacham said her sister was âhysterical, asking me did I need money, were they going to take my car. She knew my car company was trying to contact her, and I said, âNo way.â â
Beachamâs attorney, Billy Howard, a Tampa representative of the regional law firm Morgan & Morgan, has filed a motion to prohibit Mark One from using Facebook to contact Beachamâs family and friends, calling the practice âpsychological torture.â
âThe tactics weâve seen in this case are an example of psychological warfare,â Howard said.
According to Howard, if Mark One is barred from using social networking sites to harass debtors, it will be the first injunction of its kind in U.S. history.
âThe law says you canât do anything that is considered harassing or abusive,â Howard said. âWhat they did clearly falls into that category.â
Bruce Newmark, Mark Oneâs managing director, told WKMG, âI donât know a Jeff Happenstance,â though he did confirm that his company uses Facebook to contact clients who canât be reached another way, which is likely not the case with Beacham, since the company was reportedly calling her up to 20 times a day.
When WKMG presented Newmark with documents suggesting Happenstance, the Facebook pseudonym, was a Mark One employee using the social networking site to track Beacham, Newmark disputed the findings, saying, âI donât know if thatâs the case. I think youâre bringing up something we didnât have any knowledge of.â
But just in case Mark One did use Facebook to track Beacham, Newmark asserted that his company didnât do anything illegal.
âIâm not a lawyer, but weâre convinced itâs legal,â Newmark said.
However, Howard, who has successfully sued Mark One in the past, said he is confident that a jury will find in favor of Beacham.
âDebt collectors usually have two arguments â âIt wasnât meâ and âWe didnât do anything wrong,â â Howard said. âThe first one is not available to them, so now they are saying they didnât do anything wrong. But we think a jury will find to the contrary.â
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