It’s a scenario that’s happening more and more across the country. A person’s phone rings and when they answer it they’re confronted with someone claiming to be a debt collector or representing a debt collection agency. Using a variety of tactics that border on abusive, these con artists do their best to persuade the people they’re calling to pay for debts that, in almost all cases, they simply don’t owe.
Unfortunately these scammers are quite good at impersonating debt collectors and, even if they happen to have quite a bit of information, consumers need to be aware that the person on the other end of the line could be a con artist running something that’s come to be known as the “phantom debt collector” scam.
Victims of these highly organized and convincing thieves say that they can be very aggressive and nasty.
They might threaten garnishment of your wages or seizure of your assets, all the way up to arrest and jail time if the consumer does not pay on this debt right away,” said John Breyault, who runs the National Consumers League’s Fraud.org website.
One of the most common victims of their scam are people who have recently applied for a “payday loan” online and, because the ‘collection agent” has all personal information that someone would need to apply for a loan of this kind, including the name of a person’s bank and even their social security number, they sound quite credible.
“The fact that they have this incredible amount of personal information is part of the reason why people pay them,” said Elizabeth Scott, an attorney with the Federal Trade Commission. “Victims are convinced that only someone who they legitimately owe money to would have this information.”
How to protect yourself.
While it may be a bit difficult to determine if that “debt collector” is legitimate, there are a few things you can do to make sure they are or, conversely, are not.
The first thing to do is tell the person who’s calling that, until you get a written “validation notice” that’s required by law, you’re not going to do anything. Anyone who tells you that they can’t provide this is definitely a con artist.
Next is to never send money, or provide any additional information about yourself, to an unknown caller, even if you might actually owe money. The first thing to do is talk to the original lender of the loan (if there is indeed a loan) to find out the specifics about what you still owe and determine if they have been trying to contact you.
One thing you definitely don’t want to do is let anyone scare you into doing something foolish. It’s important to know that delinquency on the payment of a loan means that you might be sued but not that the company you owe money to can send the police to your home to arrest you, because that isn’t illegal and just doesn’t happen.
Ms. Scott says that “it’s hard when you’re being threatened or harassed, but slow it down,” and went on to say that anyone being disturbed by a collection con artist should “hang up the phone and take the time to see if you do actually owe someone money and if the person calling really represents the company to whom you owe the money. You may owe money, but it may not be the people who are calling.”
One thing you definitely need to do if you get a call from one of these “phantom” debt collectors is file a complaint with the state attorney general in your State and also with the Federal Trade Commission. The information that you provide will help prosecutors to build a case and go after these criminals. On the FTCs website you can find a lot more information about these fraudulent collection agencies.