As a bankruptcy and debtor’s rights attorney over the last six years, I have recognized a growing trend of debt collector scams where a con-artist illegally poses as a creditor or debt collector and tries to collect upon a debt that he has no legitimate right or authority to collect upon. Often, these scammers unlawfully impersonate legitimate law firms or collection agencies to make demands and threats to their victims for payment.
It may be simple to identify this type of scam when you have few debts and are not behind on payments. However, when medical bills, job loss, divorce, or other tragedy prevents someone from staying on top of their debts, these scammers go on the attack. A debtor, in such circumstances, can soon become easily confused because it is normal in the financial industry for creditors to turn over defaulted accounts to collection agencies for collection. When you have already lost your peace of mind due to debt, these con-artists employ illegal harassment to victimize you.
Scammers generally identify individuals with credit problems through public record searches. They can obtain personal information such as the victim’s bank account numbers, social security number, family information, and even the name and address of the victim’s employer. Sometimes scammers use this information to fraudulently induce payment for legitimate debts – meaning the victim thinks they are paying off a real debt, but instead the con-artist diverts the payment so the debt is never paid. Don’t let yourself be tricked into paying the same debt twice.
Once a victim is identified the incessant and unruly phone calls begin. Scammer phone calls are made at all hours of the day. Scammers falsely represent to have the authority take property, garnish wages, and even have the victim arrested. Scammers threaten to damage reputations and inform the victim’s family, friends, and employer of the victim’s debt problems. Scammers make these threats and then offer a settlement option of a sum of a few thousand dollars to stop the harassment if the victim will immediately wire funds.
Scammers generally operate outside the U.S. but use online services to obtain telephone numbers within the U.S. to give themselves the appearance of legitimacy. One scammer that I identified late last year used a New Orleans phone number and was impersonating an actual New Orleans law firm. I was able to identify the scam because the con artist’s unruly behavior was obviously illegal, and by doing an internet search of the purported firm I was able to locate the real office and its real phone number.
Scammer’s can be identified because their unruly behavior violates federal law. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits a creditor from making false representations or making threats to a person’s reputation or property, or from using obscene or profane language. Additionally, the FDCPA prohibits a creditor from repeatedly calling or calling before 8 a.m. or later than 9 p.m. in the debtor’s time zone. The FDCPA also requires a creditor to announce that they are a “debt collector” and that the communication is an “attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” If you receive a collection call where the “creditor” does not identify themselves, or no statement is made that the “call is an attempt to collect a debt,” or you are being threatened, then there is a strong possibility that the call is a scam.
If you find that you have been targeted by a scam artist you should report it to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (855) 411-2372, and the Nevada Attorney General (702) 486-3132. Burying your head in the sand and avoiding creditor’s calls, however, is not an option. If you have legitimate debt problems, you have rights and options that can preserve your lifestyle, protect your family, and help you get a fresh start. Get the advice you need so that you can restore your peace of mind.
Michael G. Millward, Esq., is a business and bankruptcy attorney with the law firm of Houghton Jones, A.P.C. He is a resident of Douglas County, and practices in state and federal courts in Northern Nevada. He can be reached at 775-782-0040.