Coats video store owner uses shame, Facebook to recoup late fees
Posted August 14, 2012 5:40 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2012 7:29 a.m. EDT
Coats, N.C. — A Harnett County video store owner who estimates losing $26,000 in unpaid late fees and unreturned videos in the last three years is using the power of shame and social media to recoup some debts.
Christie Ross, who owns Video Cafe in Coats, has a white board at the store bearing the names of about 300 people she says have gone at least six months without paying overdue fines or returning videos. She calls it her "Wall of Shame."
"It's hard to replace an $80 video game if the first time you rented it, they don't bring it back," she said.
A couple of months ago, in addition to the list at the store, Ross posted the list on the business' Facebook page.
"It probably is harsh, but the way I look at it is – a lot of these people have cussed us. They have told us, 'Who cares about late fees?'" she said.
Posting names has been effective in clearing up fines at the video store, Ross said, and at the end of the day, she's just trying to keep her doors open.
Ross said she consulted with her attorney before posting the Wall of Shame and that she believes it is perfectly legal because renters sign a contract when they open an account.
"(The contract) specifies what our late fees are and it specifies how much you owe if you don't bring the movies back," she said. "(My attorney) says as long as you have an agreement with them, as long you have a signature," the practice is legal.
Debt collection laws are somewhat murky, however, and Raleigh attorney Ben Whitley said he doesn't believe Ross can legally post the names.
Whitley, who specializes in debt collection cases, said that under state law, the store is considered a debt collector. That means posting the names of customers who owe is a violation of the debt collection statute's unreasonable publication clause.
Tanya Glover, whose name appears on the Wall of Shame, said Ross is violating her right to privacy.
"It made me angry because that's nobody's business. It's nobody's business, and I'm sure a lot of people are embarrassed by it," she said. "That's why we're trying to get it taken down."
Glover said she didn't even realize she had outstanding fines and that Ross never contacted her to collect.
"That's why it's so surprising. She could have sent me a letter or called my phone, but I got nothing," she said.
Ross maintains that she does reach out to people who owe unpaid fines, but that she is often unable to reach them. She has a stack of customer phone numbers that are no longer in service, she said.
If the store is in violation of state law, it could face civil action, not criminal penalties, Whitley said.
No one has filed suit against Ross over the practice.
A spokeswoman for the state Attorney General's office said that anyone who thinks they may have been unreasonably publicized by a debt collector should consult with an attorney.