For the past couple months, I've been getting at least one phone call a week from a consumer with the same story: someone calls them on the telephone out of the blue demand payment on an old (over ten years) debt (usually a credit card) and threatens them with a lawsuit or arrest if they don't pay immediately. It's gotten to the point that before the person I'm talking to gets their first full sentence out I'm able to tell that they're being harassed by a fake debt collector and the whole thing is probably a scam. My hunch is that some collection agency's archived server has been breached and the hackers are using the data (or selling it) in order to scare people into paying stale debts that not even the original creditor cares enough to try to collect any longer.
So how does one tell whether the phone call they're receiving is from a legitimate company collecting on behalf of a creditor or just some scammer trying to scare up a quick buck? Here is a non-exhaustive list of factors to examine to answer that question:
- They contact you on the phone (and only on the phone). A real debt collector will send you a debt validation letter within 5 days of initial contact.
- They neglect to give you the mini-Miranda - i.e. "This is an attempt to collect a debt."
- They threaten you with arrest or do something else that is a blatant violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
- They tell you that you're going to be served with a lawsuit THAT DAY.
- They don't have a website.
- They won't tell you the name of their company.
- The debt is super old and/or you don't recognize the name of the account/creditor.
Each of these things by themselves don't necessarily mean that the supposed collector is a fraudster, but if several of these factors are at play, it's likely you're being scammed.