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I recently received a phone call from a debt collection agency saying that I owed money on an apartment I hadn’t lived in for over 6 months, that both my previous complex and “roommate” said I didn’t owe anything, and that my prior roommate said IF we owed anything he would take care of. Much to my chagrin & surprise, finding out they were trying to get about $400 from me was more than a little shocking. And when I began asking questions, the collector said, “Well, [name left out] paid __ and was able to get off of the account.”
Needless to say, the apartments said that was impossible, but I sure wish I had read this article a while ago so I could have been better prepared for that phone call. ESPECIALLY since apparently some debt collectors will try to get you to cough up cash you may not owe. (This article goes a little bit more in depth and was the source for the previously mentioned article.)
Here’s 3 questions you can ask “debt collectors” to make sure you separate the scammers from real collections.
“What is the name, address, and phone number of the company you are calling from?”
When I asked my collector for a number to call him back (since I was at work) he wouldn’t give it to me. Said he wasn’t allowed to. If they were a legitimate debt collector, they should be willing to provide this to you. Do not allow them to proceed until you have this information. Remember – the less you know about a fake collector, the more likely it is they’ll get away with thievery!
NOTE: Never discuss debts over the phone. Tell them to send you a “validation notice” or a letter that is required to be sent to you within 5 days of contacting you. I did not know about this one, so I didn’t request it. And I haven’t heard from the collector since he said, “I’ll make a note to call you back.”
“What is the name and address of the debtor you’re trying to reach?”
If they’re legit, should be no issue. Otherwise, their response may sound suspicious. And under federal law, they are required to provide truthful information if you ask. If they’re wrong or incomplete – DO NOT CORRECT THEM! Ask them to send that letter to the address they have on file and you will respond accordingly once received.
Then hang up.
“What are the last 4 digits of the debtor’s social security number?”
This will throw off most fake debt collectors, who may or may not attempt to answer this & can even say “I don’t have that information”. A legitimate collector WILL NOT provide this information, because if they do, they’re in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
NEVER confirm such personal information over the phone.This, as well as banking information and other personal items, can be used for fraud & can have an impact on your credit score.
If a debtor tries to scare you into paying, threaten you with an arrest or legal action, or even poses as a government official – BEWARE! These are violations of the previously mentioned act.
If after you have determined that they are a fake collector, hang up and never speak to them again, no matter how many times they call or what they say. If it’s legitimate, it doesn’t mean they are entitled to collect the debt. Wait for that letter!
According to the Simple Dollar (the 2nd article I linked to), here’s the best practice to avoid issues:
- ignore collection calls entirely
- if you answered the phone, tell them to stop contacting you … if they gave you their mailing information, take a minute to send a letter demanding they cease contact immediately
FDCPA requires debt collectors to halt communications if you send a request in writing, whereas phone collectors may not give you an address at all.
Report all suspicious debt collections to the FTC.
Understand Your Rights
- Giving your address to a scammer can only lead to problems. Never offer your address (or confirmation of such) – just tell them to send that letter to the address they have on file. Don’t feel bullied or pressured to say anything else!
- FDCPA forbids collectors from calling you repeatedly or before 8a/9p unless you state otherwise.
- Obscene language is unacceptable, and not allowed to threaten or abuse you
- They’re not allowed to deceive or imply they’re from a government agency
- They must always identify themselves over the phone in EVERY conversation
- They must inform you that any information will be used to collect debt
- Family members may be called once in an attempt to locate you, but not allowed to discuss your debt
- They are obligated to disclose the amount of debt, name of the creditor to whom you owe, and the aforementioned “verification letter” confirming information relative to the debt … as well as your FDCPA rights (which my collector didn’t do)
- If you tell them to deal with your lawyer, they can no longer call you (further correspondence will go through them)
Choosing the Right Lawyer
Talked to my mom about my issue and she said I’d probably need a lawyer. According to the Simple Dollar article, if you’re dealing with harassing debt collection calls you should retain a consumer law attorney since you might be entitled to compensation (up to $1,000). These lawyers are paid by the debt collector as an additional penalty.
Your lawyer will contact the debt collector and determine whether the debt is due or even valid. Choose an attorney with experience, as explained in this FTC link. Be sure to do your homework and know what to expect BEFORE paying any fees.
How to Protect Yourself From Debt Collection Scams
Knowledge is power!
Keep a level head and record of your interactions – EVERY interaction you have with the caller. And don’t lose your cool!
Don’t be afraid to contact an attorney. (Many of the best will provide a free case review.)
Be willing to report suspicious debt collection activity to the FTC.
I hope the information I have provided has been helpful if you are receiving debt collection calls. If you would like more information, here are a few links to check out:
- LifeHacker: Ask These 3 Questions To Expose a Fake Debt Collector
- The Simple Dollar: Expose a Fake Collector by Asking These 3 Simple Questions
- LifeHacker: Get Debt Collectors Off Your Back With These Sample Letters
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