A recent Federal Trade Commission settlement has again spotlighted the never-ending saga of phony debt collection scams. The most recent FTC case involved allegedly fake payday loan debts. Fictitious business names, robocalls and other threatening tactics have been employed by scammers plotting to collect money from victims who do not owe.
Your Better Business Bureau is providing information about the scams in an attempt to prevent more consumers from getting caught up in these continuing scam attempts.
A call from the “Civil Investigations Unit”
There is nothing new about scammers using phony names, of course, but the fake debt collection schemers have gotten good at creating official-sounding department names. They leave voice mail messages that claim to be from the “Civil Investigations Unit,” the “State Sheriff’s Office” or the “Federal Crime Enforcement Network,” among others. They often cite fake case, claim or affidavit numbers, and use legal terminology that’s designed to make their call sound business-like and official. Sometimes names of fictitious law firms are used and “court action” is mentioned. It’s all contrived to scare the receiver of the message into taking the call seriously. Many seem to have.
The Omaha World Herald recently reported that a man was frightened into using up his savings in order to pay $1,400 to pay phone scammers. Following the instructions of the caller, the victim bought preloaded money cards one after another, eventually even borrowing from a family member after being threatened with a fictitious federal lawsuit.
Among the threats used by scammers against their intended victims are lawsuits, being arrested at work, garnished wages and mandatory court appearances long distances from your home.
Steps to take when a debt collector harasses you
Remember that you do have rights and protections against unscrupulous and possibly fake debt collectors. Here are some actions to take:
Ask those who contact you to provide a “validation notice” of that specific debt. By law they must give you a written account of the debt amount, the name of the creditor and a statement of your rights as specified by the Fair Debt Collections Act. They must do this within five days of when they first contact you. If they do not agree to do so, you should hang up.
• Confirm that the debt collector is not a fake by asking for their name, their company, their physical street address and a telephone number. Check that information and confirm that it is not made up.
• Never provide or confirm your bank account, credit card or other personal information over the phone until you have verified that the caller is legitimate.
• Go to annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228 to check on your credit report for outstanding debts or suspicious activity that you did not authorize.
• Never transfer money via wire transfers to someone you do not know. This includes Western Union, MoneyGram and Green Dot Moneypak services.
• Report any threat to the police and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
Remember to keep all of your records of correspondence with a debt collector. You must send them a written request to halt nuisance calls. By law they cannot call you before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night without your permission. If they are told orally or in writing that you are not allowed to get calls at work, they must not contact you there.
There is a detailed summary of your rights, including what debt collectors specifically can and cannot do by law, at the FTC website, found at ftc.gov. If you have questions or concerns about debt collectors, fraudulent or otherwise, contact your Better Business Bureau at 800-856-2417 or visit our website at www.kansasplains.bbb.org.
Denise Groene is state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Reach the BBB at 800-856-2417 or www.kansasplains.bbb.org.