Hackers and scammers have honed their craft to the level that even the savviest become victims. From spoofed email accounts from well-known banks and credit card institutions alerting individuals their account has been compromised to robo-phone dialers with local numbers who appear to know quite a bit about you – the situation with ID theft and social engineering is only going to get worse.
These individuals are smart, manipulative, are on the dark web and are many – so many that it’s hard for the professionals protecting us to stay ahead of them and on top of them.
Even the FTC is warning consumers to keep an eye and ear out for scammers pretending to be debt collectors. It’s not just elderly people who fall victim to scammers – it can be anyone, because the scammers are often very convincing – threatening to shut off services, have you arrested, etc. That heightened and threatening situation often causes people to think unclearly.
Have you gotten the call from the IRS warning you that a lien will be put on your home or your bank account will be wiped out if you don’t pay XXX by XXX? How about the call from a long-lost cousin who needs money for medical bills? The list goes on…and on…
Many of these scam artists claim you owe hundreds – or even thousands – of dollars for a debt you don’t remember, a utility bill that is past due because somehow they never received payment, or a debt so old you thought you paid it off years ago. They’ll pressure you for quick payment or try to collect as much of your personal information as they can in order to steal your identity. They even go so far as to try to obtain the last four digits of your Social Security number and/or your banking information to empty your accounts or open new credit cards in your name.
There are some simple questions you can ask to determine if someone is trying to scam you:
Question 1: ‘What is the name, address, and phone number of the company you’re calling from?’
Most people forget to ask this simple question because the debt scammer proceeds right into the debt they are trying to collect – they try to catch you off guard and make you scared and nervous. If you are speaking with a legitimate debt collector, they will be more than willing to provide you with this information. Scammers will avoid giving you any concrete information, especially information on how you can call them back. The less you know about them the better their odds are of getting information from you.
Even if you do owe a past debt and feel confident that it may be real, most companies will send you validation via a letter in the mail providing you with the specifics of the debt to be collected. Never discuss debts over the phone.
Question 2: ‘What is the name and address of the debtor you’re trying to reach?’
If you’ve been privy to answering a bunch of spam calls, you may have noticed that they rarely ask for a person by name, and just jump into their script. Legitimate debt collectors know who they are trying to reach and should have no issue disclosing this information. If the debt collector can’t provide you with your own name and address, it is a red flag. Under federal law debt collector are required to provide truthful information if you ask.
NEVER correct the debt collector if they provide the wrong information, simply ask them to send you the information they require with the debt information by mail and hang up.
Question 3: ‘What are the last four digits of the debtor’s Social Security number?’
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER provide your account number or personal information to a collector who is calling you. They should already know this information and they are not allowed to ask for it as it violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Asking for it may throw off most fake collectors.
If they do respond, even if it is correct, never confirm any 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.
If you still aren’t sure if the debt collector is scamming you, usually a quick Google search can help you out. Any legitimate debt collection agency will have a phone number that can be Googled and traced back to them. If you can’t find it, then most likely they don’t exist.
Another big reg flag is debt collectors who ask you to pay by wire or money order. If they want you to pay via a method that can’t be traced, almost 100% of the time it’s a scam.
Lastly, if you still aren’t sure if the debt is legitimate, give your credit report a quick look. Most past due debts will be reported to one of the 3 Credit Bureaus especially if it’s been bought by a debt collection agency. You can access your credit report for free at www.freecreditreport.com.
Protecting yourself and your identity have become harder and harder in today’s digital world. Although debt collection scams are a major concern, there is plenty you can do to avoid becoming a victim. Knowledge is power, and you can use this knowledge to keep the fake debt collectors at bay, helping to prevent fraud and identity theft. The bottom line – ALWAYS QUESTION EVERYTHING. Don’t be shy about pushing back and never, never give anyone your personal information nor confirm personal information over the phone UNLESS you are calling THEM for help.