Fake debt collection call scams are becoming a serious problem for consumers across the country. Some of these calls are from collection agencies collecting actual debt but many of these calls are fake. Our investigations have shown that many of these fake collector calls originate after a consumer applies for a payday loan online or filed bankruptcy a year or two before the calls start. Even if you never applied for a payday loan or filed bankruptcy, however, you can still be a target of these scammers.
How to detect a fake debt collector
It is often hard to tell whether a collection call is actually from a debt collector or scammer. In both calls the caller will often have access to your personal information, such as your name, address, and Social Security Number. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a caller may be a fake debt collector if it:
- is seeking payment on a debt for a loan you do not recognize;
- refuses to give you a mailing address or phone number;
- asks you for personal financial or sensitive information; or
- exerts high pressure to try to scare you into paying, such as threatening to have you arrested or to report you to a law enforcement agency.
This list from the FTC is not completely accurate however. Many debt collectors collecting actual debt engage in the same conduct. One of the most egregious examples is threatening to have you arrested for failing to pay a debt. Some collection agencies collecting real debt might even threaten to revoke your driver’s license if you don’t pay. There are also a lot of real debt collectors that will give you a fake business name or refuse to give you any physical address to contact them in writing.
Never use a wire transfer to pay a debt collector
Another major red flag that can help spot fake debt collection calls is when the caller insists on payment through wire transfer or other untraceable payment method. Never pay any debt collector by an untraceable method. Even if the debt is legitimate you will have no way of proving you paid and no way of tracking the scammers if the debt was fake.
You should always be suspicious if anyone asks you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay them. There’s no legitimate reason for someone you don’t know to ask you to send money that by an untraceable wire transfer.
In other words, the FTC’s advice is a good starting point for detecting fake collection calls but there are too many similarities between fake collection scammers and abusive debt collectors to be sure without more digging.
How to handle a fake debt collector
Never give the caller personal financial or other sensitive information
Don’t give out or confirm personal financial or information like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number over the phone. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft. They can charge your existing credit cards, open new credit cards, checking, or savings accounts in your name, write fraudulent checks on your accounts, take out loans in your name, or even completely drain your bank accounts.
Ask the caller for his name, company, street address, and telephone number.
Tell the caller that you refuse to discuss any debt until you get a written “validation notice.” The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. When you ask for this information some con artists will give you fake information while others will simply hang up. Search online to see if they provided real contact information.
If a caller refuses to give you all of his company contact information, do not pay!
Legitimate companies will always give you a way to contact them in writing. More importantly, paying a fake debt collector will not always make them stop calling. Once you pay a scammer, they will often call again and make up another debt to try to get more money from you.
Stop speaking with the caller.
If you have the caller’s address, send a letter demanding that the caller stop contacting you and keep a copy for your files. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, real debt collectors must stop calling you if you ask them to stop calling in writing.
Contact your creditor.
If the debt is legitimate – but you think the collector may not be – contact your creditor about the calls. Share the information you have about the suspicious calls and find out who, if anyone, the creditor has authorized to collect the debt.
Check your credit reports.
You should also check your credit report to see if the debt is real or not. Even if the debt is reporting on your credit, however, don’t pay the caller over the phone. Keep digging to be sure the debt is actually due. If you are going to pay it, be sure to pay the company that you actually owe. Just because someone tells you over the phone that you owe them money does not make it so. Demand that they verify the existence of the debt and confirm the payment history in writing before paying a collection agency. Remember, if they can’t prove you owe the debt, they can’t sue you to collect it.
These con artists can be extremely convincing on the phone. They make threats that sound official like threatening to arrest you, revoke your driver’s license, or sue you. But don’t pay over the phone no matter how scary or official they sound.
Do your homework. Pull your credit reports. Find out if the debt is real or not. Make the debt collector prove you owe the debt in writing. Any company that won’t give you written proof of the debt or provide you with contact information for the company, is a scam.
Fake collection calls are a lucrative business. Millions of consumers fall victim to these insidious thieves. Don’t be one of them. If you have already fallen victim to a fake debt collection call, contact an experienced credit or identity theft recovery lawyer to assist you.