According to the National Consumer League’s Fraud.org, there have been numerous reports of scam targets who say their loved ones and colleagues were also contacted by the scammers.
Under the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, it’s illegal for debt collectors to discuss a debt with anyone but the debtor without permission, but since scam artists are generally trying to collect debt that doesn’t exist or is owed to someone else, they don’t really give a hoot about following the letter of the law.
Fraud.org believes that a number of these scammers are getting victim info from fake online payday loan applications. People in need of money — and who therefore likely have debts — fill in these applications thinking they may get the cash they need when they’re just giving fraudsters the information they need for their shakedown — home and work address, phone number, occupation, etc.
Once the scammers have this information, they call up the victim’s family to tell them about the alleged debt. The hope is that the family will pressure the victim into paying up, or perhaps someone in the family will fork over the cash to make the debt go away and the calls stop.
Or the con artists will call the victim’s place of work, potentially bringing shame and undue attention to the employee. Out of fear of losing their job, the victim may find a way to pay the fictional debt.
And we’re not talking about $50 or $100. The average financial loss reported to Fraud.org by victims of debt collection scams between October 2013 and June 2014 was $1,748.39.
Any debt collector who is contacting family members or co-workers is breaking the law and should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission, your state’s Attorney General’s office (see full list of Attorneys General here), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even if you owe the debt.
While some debt collectors ignore the law, any collection attempt that so blatantly violates the rules should be a tip-off that the debt may not be legitimate.
If you’re not sure if you owe the debt in question, the law requires the collector to provide written proof of the debt upon request. It also requires collectors to stop calling you if you tell them to.