The frightening calls can come at any hour. Someone, usually with a foreign accent, says he's calling from a law firm, and that you're behind payment on a major debt.
INSIDE EDITION obtained calls from scam artists who said:
"Call me back as soon as possible."
"You will be charged the amount of $5,484.87 which will be levied on you."
And the callers sometimes say if you don't pay right now, you'll go to prison!
"You will be behind the bars for six months."
Kelly Harper from outside Atlanta got one of those calls earlier this year. The caller said she owed $350. Harper knew she didn't owe any such debt.
So she turned the tables on the scammer, who may have been calling from a boiler room operation somewhere in India. Here's what happened next.
Harper: "Tell me who you're filing charges with. What county?"
Caller: "Afghanistan county."
Harper: "What county?"
"This is not legit," Harper told INSIDE EDITION.
The caller then made a pretty startling admission.
Caller: "I don't have time to talk to you because I do have many people like you who I'm going to scam, you know? This is not a law firm, this is a scam company, so it's better you don't waste my time."
Tampa attorney Billy Howard of Morgan and Morgan says he gets calls every week from people who pay the telephone terrorists out of pure fear, saying, "They're bullies in a cubicle."
INSIDE EDITION's Lisa Guerrero decided to call one of numbers to see what they'd say to her. Surprise! They said they knew all about her and that she owed them money.
Guerrero asked the scammer, "So I owe $612 from January 2010?"
The scammer also threatened to throw her in jail.
"If I don't pay this today you're going to send the sheriff to my house tomorrow. To arrest me?" continued Guerrero.
"That's right ma'am. We have given you extensions to pay this off, but you haven't paid it back," said the scammer.
But when she asked where the scam artist was located, he hung up.
Howard said, "We need to find these guys and put a stop to it."
If you are contacted by one of these telephone terrorists, make sure you ask them plenty of questions about the so-called debt. The Better Business Bureau urges caution when dealing with them and has these tips for consumers who are contacted:
- Never give your bank account, credit card numbers, or other personal information to unidentified callers for any reason. If you are contacted by a debt collector about an unfamiliar debt, don't allow the collector to intimidate you into paying a debt you do not owe. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, FDCPA, gives you the right to verify debts from debt collectors.
- Within 35 days of being contacted by a debt collector, you can send a letter requesting the collector validate your debt. This validation needs to include some documents from the original creditor proving you owe the debt, the amount you owe is valid, and the agency is allowed to collect the debt from you. Your request for validation must be made in writing and should be sent via certified mail with return receipt requested.
- Within five days of its first communication to you, the debt collector is responsible for sending you a debt validation notice. This notice should be in writing letting you know you have the right to dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days. The written notice must also tell you the amount to the debt, the name of the creditor, what you must do to dispute the debt, how to contact the creditor, and a warning that "This is an attempt to collect a debt, and any information obtained will be used for that purpose." If you don't dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, the debt collector has the right to assume the debt is valid. During the 30 day period, the collector can continue attempts to collect the debt from you until it receives your validation request.
- Keep in mind that federal and state consumer protection laws do not permit debt collectors to collect, or attempt to collect a consumer debt by use or threat of use, of physical force or violence, by any criminal means to cause harm to the person, or the reputation, or the property of any person; or the threat to any person that nonpayment of the consumer debt will result in the arrest of the debtor or the seizure, garnishment, or attachment of wages, unless such action is in fact contemplated by the debt collector and permitted by the law. The law also prohibits the practice of using obscene or profane language; placing telephone calls without disclosure of the caller's identity, misrepresenting the purpose of the telephone call or communication; or by repeated calls or contacts to annoy or harass
- Finally, if you believe you've been the victim of one of these phone calls, contact your state attorney general's office to file a complaint. Some states have investigated these phone calls and issued warnings to consumers.
For more information, go to the following websites.
Federal Trade Commission rules on debt collection:
State agency warnings:
Consumer law firm specializing in abusive debt collection practices: