The way I make my living is by suing “legitimate” debt collectors. When I say legitimate, I mean companies that are (generally) attempting to collect debts they believe (whether correctly or not) to be owed by the consumer. However, I frequently hear from people who have been contacted (most frequently on the phone) by people demanding payment for often unspecified debts and threatening immediate legal action if they don’t receive payment that day. More often than not, these people are scam artists. It’s not always easy to distinguish between the two (the so-called “legitimate” companies frequently violate the law), but it’s important to figure out who is demanding payment on a duly owed debt, and who managed to obtain your information through some sort of data breach or web search and is pretending to collect on behalf of one of your creditors. Here are some of the signs the person calling you is a scammer:
- They won’t identify the company they’re calling from. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) requires that a company disclose its identity anytime it contacts you. If someone calling you won’t tell you what company they’re with, or only give some vague acronym, it’s quite possible they’re a scam-artist. The odds of this increase exponentially if you speak with multiple collectors who refuse to tell you the name of the company.
- They refuse to provide you with a mailing or physical address. Often, they’ll claim they don’t give that information out because of threats they’ve received or for personal security. That’s ridiculous. Even though many people might want to, no one goes around beating up debt collectors. They won’t tell you where they are because they don’t want you to notify law enforcement.
- They don’t have a website (or their website was recently posted and filled with generic copy and stock photos). It’s 2017; real companies have websites.
- They won’t send you anything in writing. Real companies are legally required to send you notice of your right to dispute the debt, and, typically, they manage to comply with this requirement. More importantly, real companies aren’t afraid to send you something in writing; it’s the scammers who don’t want to leave a paper trail.
- They’re violating the FDCPA. Don’t get me wrong, real collectors violate the FDCPA. They do it all the time. But people trying to steal your money will do so with abandon. This includes threatening lawsuits, threatening arrest, calling at weird hours, failing to disclose they’re acting as a debt collector, etc. The more outrageous the collector behaves, the more likely it is they’re crooks.
- They threaten dire consequences if they don’t receive payment IMMEDIATELY. All collectors want to instill some sense of urgency in the consumer; it’s Collections 101. However, any collector who tells you that you’ll be served with court papers in the next 24-48 hours is almost certainly lying.
- They’re not registered to do business in the state in which they’re located. Again, legitimate companies at least attempt to comply with applicable laws, which include registering with the state’s Secretary of State (or equivalent agency). Similarly, fake companies almost certainly aren’t part of collection industry trade organizations such as ACA International, DBA International, or the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys.
Now, any one of the above items taken in isolation doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dealing with a scam artist. However, it’s a red flag, and the more red flags you see, the more likely it is that the entity isn’t actually representing one of your creditors, but is trying to cheat your out of your hard-earned money. What I always tell people is don’t let them scare you; fear is about the only tool they have at their disposal to get you to pay them. If you’re not sure whether you’re dealing with a real company, tell them to send you something in writing, contact your state’s attorney general, or contact a local consumer right’s attorney.