Surprise! Some debt collectors are scam artists.

We hear from plenty of consumers who have received calls or emails from debt collectors.  Many contacts are scary and well beyond the “normal” bad behavior of debt collectors.  Some include threats to turn over debts to prosecutors, or to jail debtors if a debt isn’t paid right away. Often these contacts come from people with official-sounding titles. Somehow, these give an air of authority to what is being claimed. Many people then feel anxiety, fear,  or desperation.  What’s worse? Some consumers respond by paying the bogus debt collector. This only rewards such terrible behavior.

There is an entire cottage industry devoted to buying up very old debt lists. Then the con man tries to “shake down” the debtor into paying something.  This is frustrating because it is almost impossible for a consumer to track down the con artists who send the emails and make the calls. And if you can’t find them, you sure can’t sue them. Sometimes, government agencies can take down these thieves. In fact, in 2015, the FTC shut down several of these companies.

What are some signs that an email or call you received is simply a “shake down”? The CFPB can help you figure out if a debt collector is legitimate. Here are some clues that you are dealing with a scam:

  • They only want to talk to you through calls, texts, or email. Most legitimate debt collectors send correspondence through the mail.
  • With con-man emails, the overall writing is often incredibly poor. The text of such emails are often full of grammar and syntax errors. They simply do not sound like a legitimate, professional letter. Often these emails are written this way intentionally. Con men understand that a good mark (that’s the person getting scammed) will be  afraid of such a poorly-worded email.  That is because the mark hasn’t even questioned the validity of it.  A person believes such a poorly written email might be easily tricked into paying.  Wild threats and poorly worded emails actually help the gullible or anxious consumers self-select to make the con man’s job easier.
  • The email or call is full of “legalese” and threats. For instance, if the email or call threatens that you will be arrested, it is almost surely phony. If they threaten to serve you papers at work, they are probably bluffing.
  • Finally, legitimate debt collectors usually at least attempt to follow the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If they do not, they could get sued and potentially pay huge settlements for such outrageous behavior. If a call or email contains none of the hallmarks of FDCPA compliance, odds are that the communication is from a very shady debt collector. One who does not want to be identified or located. That is a major sign of a “boiler room” debt collection operation.

If you continue to get emails or calls like these, pay nothing until you make sure the debt collector is the real deal. Insist on proof of the debt. Above all, make it clear you will not be bullied into paying a penny. Get as much information as you can. If you are not convinced they are real, tell them to go pound sand  Any good debt collector should give you the necessary information.

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