Bad actors have been scamming people out of money for about as long as human civilization has existed. Unfortunately, with the advance of technology, a cell phone and Internet connection make it much easier for crafty scammers to take other people’s money before they realize what has happened. Consumers who are in debt or have recently paid off their debts are at a higher risk than most people of being scammed because the premise — you owe us money and have forgotten about it — is more credible than it would be otherwise.
The Collector Refuses to Provide Contact Information
This is a huge red flag.
“Who are you?” should be answered with, “I’m so-and-so trying to reach Mr. Jones about a personal business matter.” Once they are sure they’re talking to the right person, they’ll gladly tell you their company name and how to reach them.
All legitimate collection agents are used to being asked about their company, the correct mailing address, and proper call back numbers. If a collector refuses to provide this information to you, they are undoubtedly a scam.
There is one exception: if the collector isn’t sure they’ve reached the right person and the company name has the word “Collection” or anything similar in it, the caller might be evasive at first. This is because saying, “I’m calling from ABC Collections trying to reach Mr. Jones” almost certainly violates Mr. Jones’ privacy rights under the FDCPA.
The Collector Has a Barely Intelligible Accent
This may or may not be a red flag. Many collection agencies staff call centers overseas to save money on labor costs. But many scammers operate from overseas too. Never underestimate the power of two guys with a laser printer, cell phone, and Internet connection to drum up money via dishonest gains.
Usually, scam collectors are not just clearly “from overseas” but also much harder to understand than would be expected of someone “from overseas” dealing with the American public. Usually, they’re also over the top with threats and other FDCPA violations, too. If you get a “collections call” like this — hang up; they’re scammers.
Sadly, because many scammers are just a few guys with a cell phone in another country, there probably isn’t anyone to sue for FDCPA violations. There is no entity. You have no real way of knowing who they are, etc.
So be careful, but remember that this can be one factor in sniffing out a scam before you get bit.
The Collector Can Only Email You Proof of the Debt
It’s hard to believe, but this is is a dead giveaway you’re dealing with a fake debt collector. On the surface, this seems convenient: everybody sends invoices and receipts by email these days. But debt collectors can’t do this.
Legitimate collectors have to send you a response to your validation request via snail mail. Why? Because the law effectively requires them to: they can’t be sure the email address they have on file goes to you or someone else. Postal mail can be tracked to an address that at least appears to go to the correct person.
The Collector Insists You Pay Him by Non-Reversible Forms of Payment
Legitimate collectors will let you send a check or use your ordinary credit card. Only a scammer would insist on something like a pre-paid credit card or a wire transfer of some sort. Why? Because they’re effectively irreversible. Once they have your money, even if you uncover the scam, you’re not getting the money back.
That’s right, pre-paid cards aren’t like normal cards: you can’t just call their customer service center and complain about a fraudulent transaction made within the past 30 days or so and have a good chance of getting your money back.
If you pay a “collector” via wire transfer or pre-paid card, you’re likely to get screwed. Watch out for this.
The Collector Claims He’ll Send the Police if You Don’t Pay
This is a blatant FDCPA violation. Scam collectors love to use this approach because it works well, especially on the uninformed. Sadly, “legitimate” but ethically challenged collection agents try this sometimes, too. So unfortunately, you may not want to just hang up after yelling at the caller.
If the call happens out of the blue and you don’t recognize the debt it’s much more likely to be a scam than not.
Unfortunately, some payday loan operations like to intimidate debtors into paying delinquent loans with lines like, “You wrote a bad check… I’m calling the cops.”
Some payday lenders haven’t gotten the hint: the FDCPA applies to them too.
The Collector Claims He IS the Police — Pay Up or Be Arrested
Okay, this is even more illegal than the last example!
This is usually a new debt collector who has discovered a “neat trick” that gets debtors to pay…. just pretend to be the police and people pay up. Well, yes, it’s effective — but committing felonies is usually a bad long term career move.
Scammers calling from off-shore love this trick too. Often you’ll hear them pair this with, “I’m calling from the court house steps” and other nonsense. Don’t fall for it.
Unfortunately, between the scammers and the bad actors in the debt collection space, sometimes it can be hard to tell who is a scammer and who is a “legitimate” collector acting like an idiot.