Dealing with scammers
Are you getting calls about debts that should be dead by now? Are the callers threatening to do terrible things if you don’t pay right away? If so, you might be dealing with a scam artist.
In our experience, information about debts that are uncollectible (like the name of the original creditor, your contact information, etc.) are sold to or stolen by outfits whose sole goal is to scare you into paying. These outfits are NOT LEGAL ENTITIES, which means an attorney’s office cannot go after them without the help of law enforcement. Since we can’t help you by taking them down, we want to teach you how to spot them.
If at least a handful of the following things are true, you’re probably dealing with a scammer:
- The caller says they are trying to serve you papers or are going to be serving you papers very soon (this is very risky for a legitimate debt collector to do, so most do not)
- The caller is extremely rude (not just pushy)
- The debt in question is past the statute of limitations for collection through the courts (visit our page on statutes of limitation to learn more, but generally speaking, this means a debt that is not a judgment and where the most recent payment is more than 6 years ago)
- You think the debt in question has already been paid
- The caller is also calling other people you know about this supposed debt
- The caller gives you a firm name that sounds like a law firm but you cannot find them if you search for them online
- The caller calls you more than once a day
- The caller hangs up on you
- The caller refuses to give you specific information about the debt, like the date of the last payment or the original account number (legitimate debt collectors may not have this on hand, but they will generally not outright refuse to give it to you)
If at least several of the above are true, then it’s time for you to back the caller into a corner and get them to give you more information about their company; try one of the following and watch for these red flags:
- Ask for their address. Legitimate debt collectors know that you have a right to dispute the debt, and that the best way to do it is by mail, so ask the caller for an address to use to send them a dispute letter. If they push back and refuse to give you an address, or if they give you an address but then seem to double-down on their threats, we’re comfortable saying that you’re probably dealing with a scammer.
- Ask the caller for the full corporate name of the collection agency they supposedly work for and ask in which state their company is registered; legitimate debt collectors might not have that information on hand, but would normally try to connect you to a manager that might have it; scammers would normally just get angry at the question.
Of course the above lists are just guidelines, and since some outfits are rather sophisticated, even attorneys’ offices will sometimes have a hard time determining which agencies are legitimate. It’s safest to assume that a debt collection call is legitimate, lest you assume it’s a scam and have it turn out not to be, only to have a process server show up with papers at your door. And if a legitimate company does anything on the lists above, they are likely in violation of the law, and you stand to gain something from going after them with the help of a consumer attorney. If you have doubts about whether the caller is a scammer, contact us for a no-cost opinion.
If, however, you are relatively sure that you are dealing with a scammer and you want the calls to stop, make yourself unattractive to them. They are looking for low-hanging fruit – people who are scared – so let them know that you are not going to be bullied. We’re not telling you to break any commandments, but if there was ever a time to let out your pent-up aggression to someone on the phone, now is the time. After you scare them off, contact your local attorney general’s office and let them know what’s happening; they have the resources to shut these companies down if they hear from enough people like you.