For people who are behind on making payments, a call from a debt collector may not come as a surprise. For those who are surprised, the caller may be pretending to be a debt collector.
Fake debt collectors try to gain access to personal financial information. They use scare tactics, usually threatening arrest or other legal action. When asked, the phony debt collectors refuse to give a mailing address or phone number.
The BBB has received complaints of both legitimate and fake debt collectors using harassment techniques to receive payment. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act offers consumers rights and protection during the debt collection process. Under the act, debt collectors:
• May not use threats of violence or obscene language or make repeated phone calls.
• May only contact you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., unless they have your approval.
• Must send you a written notice showing the amount owed, the creditor to whom you owe the debt and what action you can take to dispute the debt, within five days of initial contact.
• Cannot threaten that you will be arrested if you don’t pay the debt.
• Cannot say that they will seize and sell your property or garnish wages, unless permitted by law and they intend to take action.
• Cannot threaten legal action if such action is illegal or they don’t intend to take action.
The BBB recommends the following when dealing with a debt collector, suspicious or not:
• Get the name and contact information of the caller.
• Ask for official documentation showing proof of the debt.
• Do not provide or confirm any financial or other personal information over the phone to a caller you have not verified as legitimate.
• If the caller is abusive, threatening or violates any other sections of the FDCPA, then file a complaint with your BBB, Attorney General’s office or the FTC.
• If you receive a call from a debt collector that seems like a mistake or scam, be sure to follow up. In some cases, the call may be the first clue that your identity has been stolen. For more information about identity theft, visit www.consumer.ftc.gov.
To report debt collection harassment or scams, contact the BBB at www.bbb.org or (509) 455-4200. You can also contact the Attorney General at (800) 551-4636 and the FTC at (877) 382-4357.
By Erin T. Dodge, BBB Editor