Disclosure in Bankruptcy
You have an obligation to be truthful in your bankruptcy schedules and your dealings with the court. You should always notify your attorney when you have changes to your income or assets in an active bankruptcy case. The problem comes when we find out about these things form a third party as opposed to coming directly from you. Nothing in our advice here is intended to give you the idea that you should withhold information.
Is the bankruptcy trustee looking at my social media accounts?
To answer in the most lawyerly and frustrating way possible–”it depends.” While our office has a general idea of what our local trustees are looking for, we can’t say for certain they are looking at every debtor’s social media account. It is certainly possible the trustee checks social media accounts, but usually will only take the time if they suspect something suspicious. What is more likely, is that your creditors will be the ones looking at your accounts and alerting the Trustee or Judge of your actions. Creditors that have time to monitor your case and your social media, such as ex-spouses, former business partners, and family members are common creditors that file reports.
Why would the trustee look at my social media accounts?
We have all heard of cunning lawyers (and trustees) reviewing an opposing party’s Facebook profile for information that can be used against them in court. Divorce attorneys have long used social media to gather evidence of infidelity or hidden assets. Law enforcement has turned to social media to help track persons of interest and solve crimes. This now happens to debtors as creditors, bill collectors, and the bankruptcy trustee are searching for evidence of hidden assets and luxury spending.
People often share intimate details of their life on social media—think vacations, purchases they make, the clothing they wear. If these posts show a financial situation that is different than what is claimed on the bankruptcy schedules, this could lead to trouble for the debtor. Here are a couple of ways social media posts may hurt your bankruptcy.
1. Vacations and luxury spending
Recent vacations and purchases may cause the trustee some concern about how you are spending your money. If you recently took a trip to the Caribbean on credit, the court could require you to pay back those expenses if it was close to the bankruptcy filing date. The same goes for luxury purchases close to the filing date. If you are already in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy you are still not “in the clear”. Posting increases in spending may cause the trustee to investigate if your income has increased and require your plan payments to be increased to account for your change in circumstances.
2. Property not listed in the bankruptcy schedules.
When you file your petition, you are required to accurately list all of your property. Property that was not listed (and exempted) may be seized and sold by the trustee to pay your creditors. The court may also deny you a discharge. Meaning you will still owe the debt you were trying to wipe out in bankruptcy. Take it from Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. He posted Instagram photos showing stacks of cash and claiming he had a house in Africa shortly after he filed bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge ordered him to court to explain the posts and why those assets were not listed on his schedules. For other debtors, failing to list the $5000 engagement ring you just received, or a picture of your new motorcycle may cause the trustee to investigate.
3. New or unlisted jobs, income, or business ventures
If you are in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, your monthly payments are mostly determined by your disposable income you had when you filed the case. The Bankruptcy Code requires debtors to submit all of their disposable income to the plan over the term and the debtor must report changes in income during the plan. If you are promoting your side hustle business and did not list the income in the schedules, the trustee may be able to increase your monthly payments. The trustee may also recalculate your ‘means test’ and determine you are ineligible for Chapter 7 or require a longer Chapter 13 repayment plan. Similarly, posting an announcement of a new job could trigger the trustee to investigate your new income and increase payments.
While it is unlikely that the trustee or creditors are trolling your social media page, it is important to be mindful of your posts during bankruptcy proceedings. In many cases people inadvertently post things that are exaggerations or make it appear that they have some change in their circumstances or assets when in fact nothing has really happened. Taking pictures of yourself driving a friends new luxury sports car might seem harmless, but posting them to your social media could cause you some issues if you have an aggressive creditor in your case.
If you have any questions about bankruptcy please contact our office and we will be happy to go over them with you. We have bankruptcy offices in Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence and Overland Park.