If you’re getting threatening phone calls about a debt, even if it’s one you recognize, you might be the target of a debt collection scam.
Here are key ways to identify and defend yourself from illegitimate debt collectors.Red flags of debt collection scams
You might be getting a call from a fake debt collector if you don’t recognize the debt you supposedly owe or if the caller:
- Can’t or won’t provide detailed information about the debt and original creditor.
- Won’t give you information about the agency he or she claims to represent, including name, address and phone number.
- Uses aggressive tactics to pressure you into immediate payment.
- Requestspayment over the phone.
- Asks for sensitiveinformation, such as details of your bank account, your Social Security number or your credit or debit card number.
It’s easy to detect a scam in which someone tries to collect on a debt that you don’t recognize or know you don’t owe. Fake debt collectors have many ways of getting your information, and they hope to pressure you into quick payment through a cold call.
Others can be trickier to detect, such as ascammer whotries to collect on a debt that you do owe. Scammers might tap into your credit report to see whom you owe money to, for example, and then call pretending to represent those creditors.
Threats of police action and abusive language are telltale signs of a scammer, according to the Federal Trade Commission. You can’t be arrested for a debt, and it’s against the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to mislead consumers about the consequences of not paying a debt. Legitimate debt collectors tend to tread very carefully in this area.
Another red flag: someone claiming to representthe Internal Revenue Service and seeking immediatepayment. The government’s tax collection agencywill never demandthat you pay immediatelyover the phone or ask fora credit or debit card number. Both of those are signs of phishing scams.Be aware, however, that the IRS will start using private debt collection companies in 2017.
As with any debt, ask fora validation letter — a document that outlines the details of the debt — before you do anything.What to do
Think before you act when handling any debt collector. But take these particular steps if you think a caller is trying to scam you.Get information
Start by gathering information on the debt collector and the debt. Ask fora validation letter. Legitimate debt collectors should send you this information immediately without question. Any hesitation might be a sign of a scammer.
Ask the caller for his or her name and employer, and itsphone number and street address.If the caller won’t give you this information,that’s a red flag.Protect your personal information
No matter how aggressively a potential debt collector asks, don’t give away or confirm details of your bank account, credit or debit card numbers or Social Security number. Doing socould put you at risk for identity theft or leta scammer pull money from your accounts.Contact the original creditor
If you think a scam debt collector has contacted you for payment on a debt you do owe, ask the original creditor if it sold your debt and for the contact information of the collection agency that owns it.Ignore the calls
Ignoring repeated phone calls is one of the best ways to get a scammer off your back. Don’t hesitate to hang up in the face ofharassment or threats, and don’t answer callbacks. Since scammers are looking to make a quick buck off an easy target, they’re not likely to pursue you for long before moving on.
If you’re in contact with a legitimate debt collector, however, you’ll want to make a plan toresolve the debt.File a complaint
Don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or your state attorney general’s office if you think a scam debt collector has contacted you. Gather all information you can and include it in your formal complaint.
Sean Pyles is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: email@example.com.