Phone Debt Collectors: 5 Ways to Stop Aggressive & Fake Debt Collectors
If a debt collector called and said you needed to pay a past-due bill immediately - or else face a lawsuit or arrest - you'd pay up.
Don't. Before you make any payments, make sure the caller is legitimate - and not a scammer.
Fake debt collectors use aggressive scare tactics to con American consumers and business owners out of hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Their efforts are on the rise, with federal statistics identifying Debt Collector Scams as the second-highest complaint reported by consumers.
Frighteningly, scammers are not alone in harassing and threatening consumers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports some legitimate debt collection agencies are taking up similar illegal tactics to get you to pay your bill or con you into paying more than owed. Debt collectors can be ruthless, especially when it comes to collecting on credit cards, medical bills, and student loans.
But whether real or fake, don't let debt collection calls scare you. Know your rights and how to spot the lawbreakers.
Signs of a Debt Collection Scam
Identifying a debt collection phone call becomes tricky when the call comes from a debt collection agency or law firm hired to handle the debt.
One of the biggest red flags involves the caller’s refusal to release information regarding the original debt. A scammer will ask for verification of sensitive data before giving any information in return. They may provide you with part of your information, like phone number or address – even the last four digits of your Social Security number - all to lure you into thinking that the call is the real deal. Don’t fall for the ruse.
A legitimate debt collector must tell you the name of the creditor and the balance due, including services fees. Real debt collectors may also offer a reduced pay off amount to settle the debt. If the caller doesn’t provide this information during the initial contact, federal law requires the company to send a written notice within five days.
Requests Untraceable Methods of Payment
Scammers ask to be paid by wire transfer, gift card, or prepaid credit or debit card. Some will request cash. Tracing these forms of payment is difficult, if not impossible. The victim rarely recovers their loss.
Threatens to Call Law Enforcement
Threatening to call the police is a surefire scare tactic. Even if you owe the debt, the matter is civil, not criminal. If you do owe fines, fees, or restitution, you could be held liable. Make sure the debt is real before proceeding.
Threatens to Tell Employer, Friends, and Family
No one likes to be embarrassed. The threat of other people knowing your business is another scare tactic used by scammers. Generally, debt collectors may contact others to find you but cannot reveal details of the inquiry or debt.
You Don't Recognize the Debt
We may forget about past debts if they have been unresolved for long periods of time. Before making any arrangements about a debt you don’t recognize, ask for detailed information about the account. By law, a debt collection agency must tell you the name of the creditor and the amount owed.
If you still don’t remember, ask for information to send a dispute letter to the original creditor. You may also request further information.
Requires Financial Information
The caller asks for sensitive information, including bank account routing numbers, credit card information, birth date, or Social Security number. You should never give anyone personal financial information over the phone. Scammers use this data to commit identity theft.
Calls at Strange Times
Legitimate debt collectors know when they can call according to the Federal Trade Commission’s Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). Telemarketers (including debt collection agencies) cannot call you at an unusual or inconvenient time. They may call you on your cell phone or landline. The hours permitted by the TSR are between 8 A.M. and 9 P.M.
Five Ways to Protect Yourself From Debt Collection Phone Scams
If you're receiving non-stop calls from an aggressive debt collector, take the following steps to protect yourself.
1. Verify the caller's identity and go to the source.
While some fraudsters use a fake company name, others use caller ID spoofing to impersonate a real collection agency. Before you give out any information or sit through a lengthy pitch about debt repayment, verify the caller’s identity.
Ask the caller's name, company, address, and telephone number upfront. Use the information to investigate their legitimacy online, including the Federal Trade Commission's list of banned collection companies and individuals and CallerSmart's yellow pages phone directory app. Don’t give in to pressure to discuss the matter immediately.
Additionally, find the service number for the original creditor of your supposed debt, online, or on your loan paperwork. Call the creditor directly for debt validation. If the debt is legitimate, ask if the collector in question is operating on their behalf. Never proceed without verification of the debt.
2. Request a written notice.
Request written proof of your obligation and refuse to discuss your debt further until you've received it. Legitimate debt collectors are required to provide you with a written notice within five days of first contacting you, under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
The notice should include the name of the original creditor, amount owed, and your right to dispute the debt.
3. Keep your personal information private and resist pressure tactics.
Don't give or confirm sensitive information like your Social Security or any financial information like banking or credit card numbers. Scammers could use this information to commit identity theft and steal money from your accounts.
While scammers and legitimate collectors will push for prompt payment, note that it's illegal for someone to threaten, harass or intimidate you. This includes threats of immediate lawsuits or arrest, two tell-tale signs of a debt collection scam.
Per the FDCPA, you can stop pressuring calls from real agencies by mailing them a formal request to cease communication. If the company ignores the request, you are entitled to take legal action.
4. Check your credit score.
Credit reports and credit scores use past and present accounts, including debts, even if the creditor closed the account. Consumers are entitled to receive an annual credit report at no charge. Some websites, like Credit Karma, offer free reports. To get an official credit report from the three major credit bureaus, visit AnnualCreditReport.com or call (877) 322-8228. Remember that not all companies use credit reporting agencies, so this should be the first step to verify an account.
5. Understand your rights.
Perhaps the most important thing is to know your rights. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from specific practices, including misrepresenting a debt, falsely claiming to be an attorney, or using profane language during contact.
What to Do If You Think You're Being Scammed
If a fake debt collector has contacted you, or a legitimate collection agency breaking the FDCPA with harassing tactics, report the incident immediately to the FTC and your state's Attorney General's office. Also visit The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for information on law enforcement and compensation for harmed consumers.
To protect others from falling for these illegal tactics, you can trace unknown callers on your iPhone and leave your feedback on the number with CallerSmart's app. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still run a reverse phone number lookup on our website and leave your feedback to help others.