Phantom debts – sounds a little like a ghostly Halloween prank. Unfortunately, it’s no joke. Some fake debt collectors may try deception and threats to pressure you to pay debts that you don’t owe. The FTC recently settled a case with debt collectors, Pinnacle Payment Services, Lisa Jeter, her partners and related companies about just these kinds of practices.
Imagine getting a phone message like this:
This is the Civil Investigations Unit. We are contacting you in regards to a complaint being filed against you, pursuant to claim and affidavit number D00D-2932, where you have been named a respondent in a court action and must appear… Please forward this information to your attorney in that the order to show cause contains a restraining order. You or your attorney will have 24 to 48 hours to oppose this matter… Call 757-301-4745.
Who wouldn’t be spooked? The FTC has gotten almost 3,000 complaints about messages like this.
Sometimes the collectors use fictitious names that imply they are or are affiliated with a law firm. They threaten that if you don’t pay, you could suffer serious consequences – like being sued, being arrested at work, having your bank account closed, your wages garnished, or forced to appear in court thousands of miles from home.
If you think that a caller may be a fake debt collector, ask for his name, company, street address, and telephone number. Tell the caller that you refuse to discuss any debt until you get a written "validation notice." The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor you owe, and your rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If the caller refuses to give you all this information, don’t pay! Paying a fake debt collector won’t always make them go away: They may make up another debt to try to get more money from you. Don’t give or confirm any of your financial or other sensitive information, either. Phony debt collectors can use your information to commit identity theft by charging your existing credit cards, or opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name.