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Debt collectors should not be allowed to chase people who owe them money on social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, the UK's Office of Fair Trading has said.

The OFT issued new guidance today that warned banks, law firms, tracing agents and debt collectors that using social networks to track down debtors was "unfair or improper".

"Posting messages on social networking sites in a way that might potentially reveal that an identifiable person is being pursued for the repayment of a debt" was "acting in a way likely be publicly embarrassing to the debtor, either deliberately or negligently", the OFT guidance said.

An OFT spokesman told The Register that the practice was a lot like leaving voicemail or postcards that friends or family could easily hear or read, which could be distressing.

"When a company posts information on a social network, that information is even more in the public domain and could cause embarrassment or stress for the debtor," he said.

He added that chasing debts on social networks hadn't been a widespread issue so far.

"We've had a couple of complaints, which we've dealt with. We've spoken to the companies concerned and they stopped immediately," he said. "We'll continue to monitor how the guidance is complied with and we welcome any evidence of noncompliance."

Any debt agencies that continued the practice could have their consumer credit licence taken off them, the guidance 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," David Fisher, the OFT's director of consumer credit, said in a canned statement. ®

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