Fake Debt Collectors Are Trying To Intimidate You Out Of Your Money

ABCNews says that the West Virginia Attorney General is warning people about fake debt collectors who will call you repeatedly at home and at work, threatening you with arrest for not paying a debt… that doesn’t even exist.

The scammers operate under names such as U.S. National Bank, Federal Investigation Bureau and United Legal Processing, said West Virginia Assistant Attorney General Norman Googel.

The callers also have invoked the names of actors Denzel Washington and Steve Martin, people who’ve received calls tell ABCNews.com.

Googel said that the scammers have been impossible to track down, but ABCNews.com spoke to one man who claimed to be associated with U.S. National Bank. The man said he works for Financial Crime Division, a company he said provides services for USNB.

The man refused to give his name and gave little information about his company.

Steve Martin? What? When ABC tried to get the fake debt collector to tell them about his company, he responded in a thick accent: “It’s not necessary that each and everyone knows about Financial Crime Division, and probably one of them is you.” Yep. Definitely one of them is us. (To hear a clip of this conversation, click here.)

ABC says the scammers are targeting people who took out payday loans and have access to lots of personal information that may have been stolen from payday lending websites. One consumer who was interviewed for the report said that he was intimidated into sending the scammers $800. They claimed he still owed the money on some loans he took out in 2005. He had paid the loans off last year, but threats of arrest scared him.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “Everything they said literally just stressed me out to the max.”

The scammers like to use scary-sounding terms that are meaningless such as “downloading affidavits,” identify themselves as “Denzel Washington,” and say they are calling from “Steve Martin’s office.”

ABC says consumers with complaints about U.S. National Bank are encouraged to contact the FTC, and their state attorney general’s office.

Fake Debt Collectors Terrify Consumers [ABCNews]
Attorney General McGraw Warns Public of Fake Internet Loan Collectors Impersonating Law Enforcement Officers and Extorting Money From Consumers [West Virginia AG]


Edit Your Comment

  1. smirkette says:

    Damn, what won’t actors do for money?

  2. kittenfoo says:

    Don’tcha think that when Steve Martin or Denzel Washington call you saying that you owe money or you’ll be thrown in jail, most people will twig to the fact that it’s not real?

    Just sayin’

  3. chiieddy says:

    @kittenfoo: Especially when they call with an Indian accent.

  4. dorianh49 says:

    Steve Martin: You owe us a thousand dollars.
    Me: Well, excuuuuuuuuuuuse meeeeeeeeeeeee!

  5. @dorianh49: A thousand dollars? You need a thousand dollars? I thought all you needed was the ashtray. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair. That’s all you need.

  6. darkstarX says:

    @kittenfoo: I wouldn’t give the money to Steve Martin, but Denzel . . . maybe.

  7. JollyJumjuck says:

    I’m waiting for the scammer who impersonates Redd Foxx and calls people “big dummies” to send him money.

  8. Aeroracere says:

    Federal Investigation Bureau = FIB?

    Good name…

  9. BuddyGuyMontag says:

    The scammers have been identified as George and Yortuk Festrunk.

  10. BuddyGuyMontag says:

    @Aeroracere: Could be worse. When Vince McMahon’s limo blew up, the Federal Investigation Ccommision was brought in.

  11. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    As the criminal dregs of society sink to a new low…

  12. RandomHookup says:

    @darkstarX: Now if Scarlett Jo called, I’d be all about giving her money.

  13. timmus says:

    Advice to WV consumers: Anyone calling on the phone can go to hell. If it’s really important, they can send a certified letter.

  14. BuddyGuyMontag says:

    Steve Martin needs the money, he’s still paying off Franck Eggelhoffer.

  15. BuddyGuyMontag says:

    I can go alllllll day with Steve Martin and Denzel references.

  16. sleze69 says:

    @kittenfoo: We’re talking West Virginia here…

  17. shorty63136 says:

    This happened to my grandpa last week in Missouri.

    He’s 80 and has NEVER, EVER owned a credit card in his life. They called threatening him about a $600 past-due amount. He hung up on them.

  18. Quilt says:

    Who are these twits who fall for these scams?

    “You still owe us money! We will call the police.”

    “Ok, you go right ahead.”


    It’s THAT easy.

  19. RevRagnarok says:

    @Git Em SteveDave displays attention-grabbing vanity: LOL thanks for the morning laugh. Somebody got yer reference.

  20. MaytagRepairman says:

    I recently had a debt collector call me over a hospital bill. I politely asked for the source of the debt and called the hospital billing department to verify that they turned it over to a debt collector. Turns out the hospital was sending the bill to the wrong address and either didn’t try or couldn’t get a hold of me on the phone so after 6 months they turned the bill over to collections. I would have never paid them unless I could verify the debt.

  21. Snarkysnake says:

    I’m usually not much on blaming the victim,but, what the hell, it’s Thursday…

    I listened to that audio and have to wonder what kind of doofus would fall for such an amateurish ploy. Sweet Jesus, the guy had a laughable Indian accent. I probably would have asked him if he was calling the right damn country. Just to be that gullible is kind of embarassing…Wake up,you people !

  22. Etoiles says:

    @Quilt: Who are these twits who fall for these scams? “You still owe us money! We will call the police.” “Ok, you go right ahead.” Click. It’s THAT easy.

    Except that there are a lot of people in this country who, for reasons both realistic and imaginary, have a genuine fear of the police. I’ve heard tale, for example, of my own great-grandfather, who fled Russia at the turn of the 20th century, being frightened of American police his whole life because of what he experienced in the old country.

    You want to be a perfectly legal Mexican immigrant who gets the cops called on himself in, say, the less friendly border towns of Arizona? Or a frequent debtor, just skimming by, anywhere else, who’s skipped paying a dozen parking tickets because it was either that or eat? What if you got arrested five years ago but can stay out of jail on probation so long as you don’t have any more tangles with the police

    There are hundreds of reasons, many of them common, predictable, and sensible, why Americans might be frightened by such a threat. And not all Americans are educated enough, privileged enough, wealthy enough, or savvy enough to know when such a threat is pure BS.

  23. Loki_Monster says:

    What I want to know is how did the victims send the money? If it was anything other than a money order, they have opened up yet another can of worms which includes potential identity theft.

  24. shorty63136 says:

    @Quilt: I’ve found that they’re not all twits. My grandpa, who I spoke of earlier, is 80 and cannot read nor can he write and always, always, always pays in cash. “I’m gonna pay those people. I owe em, so I’m gonna pay em!”

    I handled his finances and health-related stuff for years until I moved down here to Atlanta, so I think that had he never, ever owned a credit card (and known it for himself), he could’ve been a victim to something like this. The callers could’ve spouted off all kinds of jargon and he wouldn’t understand, but still agree to pay. (Although it would’ve had to get past me or my aunt – which it wouldn’t – b/c he can’t write the address down to send the payment, so maybe he wouldn’t have gotten scammed.)

  25. picardia says:

    I would probably be really stressed out by such a call even though I would know it was a scam. (“Steve Martin” is not a dead giveaway, but “Denzel Washington”? Really?) I mean, people calling and being crappy to you at both work and home is upsetting, maybe more so if it springs from no cause, and the thing that would bother me most is that I’d want to know how these people got any of my info.

  26. IphtashuFitz says:

    “Thank you for the call. Please send me proof in the mail. Until then don’t call me back.”


  27. Shadowfire says:

    @Loki_Monster: If it’s a money order, it still falls under mail fraud, does it not?

  28. Quilt says:


    Sorry, I just don’t understand it. How hard is it to keep track of your debts? I owe so and so X number of dollars. If someone calls you up saying you owe them money, and they’re talking about a debt you KNOW you’ve already paid off, or a debt you’ve never even HEARD OF, then there should be a referee in your head throwing a flag out onto the field. Start asking probing questions to them.

    There’s so many people who have this knee-jerk, fear based to reaction to things. I just don’t get it.

  29. Inglix_the_Mad says:


    “Thank you for the call. Please send me proof in the mail. Until then don’t call me back.”


    Direct the mail to:

    Chief of Police
    123 Any St
    blah, BL, 5491x

  30. iMike says:

    I like the name Norman Googel.

  31. BrAff says:

    Hopefully Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith don’t show up to collect… Aren’t the Men In Black also known as the Financial Crime Division?

  32. DrGirlfriend says:

    Some celebrity names owuld have been more believable than others. Like Ed McMahon, or MC Hammer.I could totally believe that they needed the money.

  33. Etoiles says:

    @Quilt: Say what you like, but I’ve known plenty of folks (two years living in Spanish Harlem will introduce you to a lot of neighbors at the bottom of the totem pole) who are reasonably bright people who can get caught up in this kind of crap. This is why I believe so strongly in education and in literacy from a young age.

  34. theblackdog says:
  35. ILoveVermont says:

    Here’s a thought:

    Pretend you’re going along with the scam, act all scared, apologetic and such, get the address to send the payment to, then call the cops.

  36. lalaland13 says:

    I’ve had debt collectors who (incorrectly) thought I owed them something tell me that they talked to the cops and “they said you needed to be arrested.” Ahem. Yeah. Sure. Then I filed a report on them for harassment, and while it probably did squat, it got it on the record and made me feel better.

    It was actually my mother’s debt, not mine. Now it’s being garnished from her wages every month. Ouch. If I didn’t know it before, I do now: Never ever file for bankruptcy, which means never ever get to the point where it’s an option.

  37. HogwartsAlum says:


    Thanks for the giggle!

  38. lalaland13 says:

    And it can be scary when someone calls you and starts spouting off scary crap-even if logically, you know that this can’t be right, in the moment, it can be pretty hard to convince yourself of that.

  39. HogwartsAlum says:

    If someone called me and said their name was Denzel Washington and that I owed them money, blah blah blah I would burst into hysterical Joker laughter and say, “It’s not about the MONEY…it’s about sending a message!” right before I blow an air horn into the phone.

  40. Quilt says:

    @EtoilePB: I’ll second that. Good education prevents a lot of rediculous stuff.

  41. Quilt says:

    @Quilt: HA! I just spelt ridiculous wrong. So much for my edumacation.

  42. dragonfire81 says:

    Could you be arrested for not paying a non court imposed debt? I mean I know you can get busted for say failing to pay child/spousal support and such but if you owe a couple Gs on a credit card can you actually be arrested if you don’t pay?

  43. bohemian says:

    Even if you know it is a scam this is akin to a threatening and harassing crank call, possibly a bit scarier since they also are bringing up your finances.

    This kind of crap is why I don’t do any sort of personal business dealings over the phone. Send it in the mail, I want a paper trail. Then I also have evidence and potentially something to back track them on.

    I have had at least two of these kinds of scams attempted on me luckily I know how things work and know who and what I owe. Too many people don’t know on either count.

    I would love to see some real rules and some law enforcement efforts put into throwing this scum in jail. This is breaking far more laws than just fraud.

  44. bohemian says:

    @dragonfire81: No.
    The only debts that can land you in jail are things the state or fed mandate, taxes, child support etc.

  45. Darkwing_Duck says:

    Intimidate them back? Doesn’t anyone know how to get nasty anymore?

  46. YoniX says:

    The term “don’t call us, we’ll call you” seems oddly appropriate about now, huh?

  47. OnceWasCool says:

    I had a woman this week call and claim to be from my bank. She said there was an issue with my account but before she could discuss it I needed to verify personal information.

    Of course I said no and then called my bank.

    It was not the bank nor do they my work phone number listed anywhere. (it is an old account)

    The ONLY company that has both my bank name and my work phone number is a the company hired to process payroll at work. They do direct deposits. So I figure, an employee was writing down some info and calling.

  48. econobiker says:

    Those fun Nigerian/Indian/etc scammers found out about VIOP phones (probably hacked for free calls) and hacked payday loan databases. Why shouldn’t they advance their tactics from emailing 419 scam offers to email addresses skimmed from website guestbook pages to the new frontier of impersonating debt collectors to the society that is awash in debt.

    I just wonder how they get the money- are these people using the Western Union money transfer deal?

  49. drdom says:

    Tell them you’re busy right now and ask for a number you can call them back at.

  50. thelushie says:

    @dragonfire81: No you can’t. That would be debtors prison and we don’t do that anymore in this country.

    @sleze69: That is such a jerk thing to say. Get away from the public library computers. I am from WV and I can pretty much bet I have more education and intelligence than you do.

    @lalaland13: Unfortunately it is not always as simple as never letting it get to that point. I had a friend whose boyfriend had a major illness. He could not work and the bills piled up (and we are talking major amounts of medical bills). He had crappy health insurance (at the time) and it only covered a small portion. He was never going to get them paid and he took the last choice which was to file bankruptcy. He considered it the very last choice but there were no other options. And not all of his debt was discharged.

    As for this scam, in this area we have known about it for awhile. Unlike what some people seem to think, not all West Virginians are dumb and have been filing complaints.

  51. Imaginary_Friend says:

    @Quilt: Good for you. Now how about some empathy for other people who may not be as fortunate — the elderly or people with dementia or learning disabilities. Some of these folks don’t have any family or close friends to vet their calls; they could be bullied and confused by these types of scammers and actually fall victim to these despicable tactics.

    Obviously the scammers are making money or they wouldn’t keep doing it. Blaming the victim doesn’t do anyone any good.

  52. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @Quilt: But the guy in the article didn’t suddenly believe he owed the money, he just thought the debtor had the power to make his life hell.

    It isn’t about not being able to keep track of your debts it’s about not knowing what your rights are and about not believing in your own ability to protect those rights.

  53. RDAC says:

    They tried this in Texas a few years back. My wife got hit, and because she was smart enough not to give any information (they wanted ssn, started playing the fill-in-the-blank game), the local PD said they couldn’t do anything unless they got some cash out of her.

    After all, attempted fraud’s not a ‘real’ crime, right?

    Stupid. lazy. humans.

  54. floraposte says:

    @thelushie: You can’t imprison someone for debt, but you can send them to jail if they miss a court hearing about the claim. Hospitals, charmingly enough, have been engaging in this:


  55. SchuylerH says:

    Shades of the “Yer not gittin’ mah account number” scammer from earlier this year.

  56. Dyscord says:

    The sad thing is that this isn’t all that different from REAL debt collectors…except for the arrest part. I got a call a few years ago about collecting my debt. The info they gave me didn’t quite match up with my credit report and the lady I was talking to escalated the call up to some mean bitch. She completely ignored the fact that my credit report had some errors on it. Instead she was all “You better pay this or else. I suggest you find someone to borrow the money off of by tomorrow.”

    Of course, my mom in law is a paralegal and one of the things I learned is that once you mention that you don’t have a job or no way of paying the debt, any further communication like that becomes harassment.

  57. varro says:

    @floraposte: Those hospitals are scum – if there’s a judgment against the debtor, send the sheriff after their property. If no judgment, missing a hearing without an excuse should just mean a default against the debtor.

    Of course, if we had a national health care plan like the Canadians do, Dr. Beeper wouldn’t be petitioning judges to arrest patients who haven’t paid their bills…

  58. purplesun says:

    I had one of these call my work the other day! Didn’t give them any money, but wow. Good timing, consumerist!

  59. SacraBos says:

    @dorianh49: I was thinking that since a debt collector called me, I’m finally somebody!

  60. AustinTXProgrammer says:

    @Dyscord: As well as “Or Else”. Respond: “or else what?” Using threats to collect a debt is illegal and you can recover damages in civil court.

  61. mythago says:

    @Quilt: You are correct that you ‘just don’t get it’. So why are you shooting off your mouth about it? If it’s to convince everybody that everything you do is perfectly rational and you have never made an error in your life, you can save the bandwidth.

  62. 420greg says:

    If you are stupid enough to think you can go to jail for not paying your bills you deserved to be scammed.

    It is not against the law to not pay your bills.

    They closed all the debtors prisons decades ago.

  63. dragonfire81 says:

    @AustinTXProgrammer: If it’s illegal it sure isn’t policed well as incidents like that happen ALL the time.

  64. mythago says:

    @420greg: Sorry, not following you here. If you pick on people who don’t know the law, it’s OK to commit fraud and theft? If you don’t know the law you deserve to be victimized by people who do? It’s all right to rip off elderly people who may be fading mentally?

    I mean, set aside the comments policy for a sec here. What’s the rationale behind this argument?

  65. jrobie says:

    This is pretty terrible, and honestly it doesn’t seem that different from “legitimate” collection companies. How many stories have we read on this site alone where people have ended up paying money they didn’t owe just to get some group of companies to leave them alone.

    I guess when a business randomly decides you owe it money you’re it’s okay.

  66. Meathamper says:

    Norm Googel…who?

  67. mrearly2 says:

    Hmph! The IRS does that, routinely.

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