Is that a Real Debt Collector or a Crook on the Phone?
An individual contacts you, claiming you owe money. Nobody welcomes this call. More importantly, you face a real question: Is this a legitimate claim, or is a criminal trying to con you?
There are steps you can take to determine if the debt is real, if you are uncertain about the charge in question. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says there are a handful of signs to watch out for, and rights you have as a consumer, to clarify whether you are the target of a scam or you really owe the money.
Telltale signs of a debt-collection scam include:
You don’t remember owing the money. This is a huge red flag, but it should be easy enough to determine. Make sure the collector tells you the name of the creditor and consider calling them directly, if need be.
Withholding information. A debt collector is required to disclose the name of the creditor, the exact amount, and your right to be furnished with verification of the debt. The collector has five days to provide written notice after the initial contact.
Collector requests payment by money transfer or prepaid card. Warning: such payment requests may be impossible to trace and are almost always the sign of a scam.
Threatening to tell your family, friends, or employer about the debt. Such coercive tactics are generally against the law. Crooks may also call you late at night or at other odd, non-business hours.
Asking you for personal data. Never provide any personal financial data to an unknown, unexpected caller. You have legal rights as a consumer to protect yourself. Enlist assistance from a family member or professional, if necessary.
Among the steps you can take:
- Demand a callback name, number, and address. This information can help you determine whether the debt collector is genuine or a scammer.
- Contact the creditor yourself. Once the debt collector makes clear who is calling, you can research the company to see if it’s legitimate, and then call up the creditor yourself to confirm whether or not there is a real debt.
- Review your credit report. This is not a fool-proof test, as credit agencies do not always have all your credit information. But it may reveal the debt. You can get your credit report with a fraud monitoring service like EverSafe, or go to AnnualCreditReport.com.