By David Hollister
Plumas County residents are currently receiving a variety of telephone calls all aimed at separating you from your money, or maybe more importantly, your private identifying information. In addition to the standard Secret Shopper, Online Shopping, Gift Card and Charity scams (see https://www.fbi.gov/news/podcasts/inside-the-fbi-holiday-scams-120120 for an excellent discussion by an FBI agent) a new approach hitting Plumas County has been from a person calling and claiming to be from a “debt collection mediation firm” (this scam has been reported on from the state of Washington a few years back).
The Plumas County DA website has an entire library of fraud alert resources at https://www.plumascounty.us/2421/FACT-Fraud-Prevention-Resources.
In addition, and to help identify the current scam involving debt collection, please ask any such caller the following three questions (suggested by Craig T. Kimmel at the Simple Dollar Staff)…
Question 1: ‘What is the name, address, and phone number of the company you’re calling from?’
If you are speaking with a legitimate debt collector, they will be more than willing to provide you with this information. Don’t let them proceed until they answer this question.
Phony collectors will avoid a concrete answer, as it forces them to reveal who they are and how they can be reached. The less you know about a fake debt collector, the better their chances are of tricking you into giving them your money or personal information.
Even if a caller gives you an answer, never discuss debts over the phone. Tell them instead to send you the “validation notice,” a letter that is required to be sent within five days of first contacting you.
Question 2: ‘What is the name and address of the debtor you’re trying to reach?’
Legitimate debt collectors know who they are trying to reach and should have no issue disclosing this information. On the other hand, a fake debt collector will rarely be able to provide you with an answer to this one, and if they do, the answer may sound suspicious.
If the debt collector can’t provide you with your own name and address, it is a red flag that something is amiss. Authentic debt collectors will have the information and, under federal law, are required to provide truthful information if you ask.
If you are provided the wrong information or incomplete information, do not correct the person speaking. Instead, tell them to send the verification letter to the address they have on file, explaining that you will respond accordingly once the letter is received. Then hang up.
Question 3: ‘What are the last four digits of the debtor’s Social Security number?’
This last one is somewhat of a trick question that will throw off most fake collectors. A legitimate debt collector will never answer this question, because if they do, they are violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Meanwhile, a phony or illegitimate debt collector may attempt to answer this question – especially if they have the last four digits of your Social Security number. In some cases, they may simply claim they don’t have any info in their file and have no way of knowing it.
Never confirm such personal information with any debt collector over the phone. Social Security number, banking information, and other personal details can be collected and used to steal your identity.
Once a crook has your personal info, he can use it to open new credit cards and checking/savings accounts, to write fraudulent checks, or to take out new loans in your name. This can cause a slew of problems that are incredibly difficult to remedy and may have a dramatic impact on your credit score.
Don’t provide personal information even if collectors attempt to scare you into paying, threaten to have you arrested, or pose as a government official. These are all violations of the FDCPA and a clear indication the collector is not legitimate.
Remember, there is no such thing as being too careful with your identity and personal information.
What to Do If You Believe You’re Receiving Fake Debt Collection Calls
Once you’ve determined a fake debt collector is calling, hang up and never speak with them again, no matter what they say or how often they call.
If the debt is legitimate, it does not mean the person calling is entitled to collect the debt. Again, wait for the letter.
The best practice to avoid any problems is to ignore collection calls entirely. If you find yourself having answered the phone, tell them to stop contacting you. If the caller gave you their company’s mailing information, take a minute to send a letter that demands them to cease contact with you immediately.
The FDCPA requires debt collectors to halt communications if you send them a request in writing, and most legitimate debt collectors will oblige while phony debt collectors may not give you an address at all.
If possible, report all suspicious debt collection calls to the FTC. By reporting the phony debt collector, appropriate action may be taken to help ensure the fraudulent activity is put to an end.
Understand Your Rights
You should always tell the debt collector to send you a written letter to the address they have on file, but never offer your address, as they should already have it. Inadvertently giving your address to a scammer can only lead to trouble.
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are forbidden from calling you repeatedly, or calling you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. (unless you told them to do so).
Debt collectors are not allowed to deceive or imply that they’re from a government agency. They cannot say you have committed a crime, or that they will be serving you with papers. Obscene language is completely unacceptable, and they are not allowed to threaten or abuse you.
Debt collectors must always identify themselves as such in every telephone conversation. They must inform you that any information will be used to collect the debt.
Although collectors are only allowed to discuss a debt with the debtor, family members and friends may be called once, just to request information on how to locate you.
To the debtor, collectors are obligated to disclose the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor to whom you owe the debt, and the aforementioned “verification letter” confirming information relative to the debt, as well as a reminder of your FDCPA rights.
If you are in doubt or have a concern you are being targeted, do not hesitate to call the Plumas County District Attorney’s Office at 283-6303 and ask to speak with an Investigator.
Please stay safe and healthy this holiday season.
Merry Christmas, David Hollister