As we become increasingly reliant on digital data, we sometimes take for granted that the companies we entrust with our information are taking the necessary steps to keep it safe. Many are, but many are still way behind and that is what the hackers, cybercriminals and scam artists are counting on.
The fake debt collector scam is particularly disturbing. While the scam isn’t a new one, criminals are finding innovative ways to accomplish their goals of stealing your money, your identity, or both.
Recently, the database of a national collection and debt service company was breached. Specific information about individuals was accessed, including the amount of debt owed, names, phone numbers, addresses, co-signer information, and Social Security numbers. Fraudsters then posed as legitimate debt collectors. With such a vast knowledge of the account holders’ information, an individual would have little reason to be suspicious.
What steps can you take to protect yourself?
- Ask the name of the person calling you, the company they represent, telephone number and a street address. A debt collector must provide this information. Again, they cannot lie about who they are or send misleading documents.
- Tell the caller you refuse to discuss any debt related issue until you get a written “validation notice.” The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
- Stop speaking with the caller. If you have the address of the caller, send a letter instructing that the caller must stop contacting you. Send it Certified Mail. Keep a copy for your records. By law, they must stop calling you if you request it in writing.
- Never provide the caller personal information, including financial information, bank account, credit card or your Social Security number unless you have verified the source is legitimate.
- Contact your creditor to find out if the debt is legitimate and who they have authorized to collect the debt.
- If suspicious, report the call to the Federal Trade Commission and your state Attorney General’s office. Many states have their own debt collection laws in addition to the federal FDCPA .
Tips for spotting fake debt collectors are adapted from the FTC website.
Remember that debt collectors must follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and cannot use abusive and deceptive practices.
- Debt collectors cannot reveal any information about your debt to your boss, friends or even your family.
- You have the right to request that all correspondence be in writing
- A debt collector may not collect any amount greater than your debt unless your state law permits such a charge.
- Attorneys who collect debts for third parties on a regular basis are debt collectors and must also follow the rules and regulations under FDCPA.
- You are not responsible for paying the debt of a deceased relative and a debt collector cannot press you for payment of the debt.
- A debt collector cannot threaten to have you arrested over a debt.
- A debt collector cannot state they are someone other than who they are. They cannot pose as a law enforcement agency, for example, attempting to scare you or threaten jail time in order to collect a debt.