Inside Edition’s I-Squad went undercover and exposed shady debt collection companies in Buffalo, New York.
Our cameras caught employees lying and intimidating people to collect debts.
When speaking to our undercover producer in private, an office manager didn’t seem to be afraid to admit the company’s sleazy practices saying, “You got to be a good liar, you got to be a good manipulator.”
Some companies even threaten.
INSIDE EDITION uncovered a recording left on an alarmed customer’s phone that said, “When I see you, I will [expletive] you up. I will find your sister, your daughter. I will find her and I will find you.”
Dozens of other companies operate in non-descript offices in and around Buffalo. That's where INSIDE EDITION investigative producer Joe Enoch applied for jobs.
At one company, the owner revealed what she calls the “shakedown method.” It's designed to scare people into thinking a debt collector will appear one day and embarrass them at home or work.
She told Enoch, “I may say, 'I’m due to come out to both your residence and place of employment, wherever I can reach you. Please have you're photo ID available at signing.'”
Enoch said, “But of course we're not actually...”
“No, you're not actually. You're in New York, but they don't know that,” she said.
A debt collector at that company was caught on our cameras using a fake name and claiming she was a "county investigator,” among other outright falsehoods.
“This is investigator Julie Jones, contacting you on behalf of Catawaba County,” she said to someone over the phone. “I am currently conducting an investigation.”
Enoch asked her, “You think the shakedown method works better?”
She replied, “I do because I think that it stresses urgency.”
It’s all one big lie and what she's doing is against state and federal law, so INSIDE EDITION’s Lisa Guerrero caught up with that so-called "investigator” outside her office.
“Do you ever pretend to be a government official?” Guerrero asked.
The debt collector responded, “Who are you?”
“I'm Lisa Guerrero with INSIDE EDITION. Do you pretend to be a government official?”
“You have to talk to my boss,” she answered. “Why are you here?”
At another collection company, an office manager has no idea she's on hidden camera when she reveals the dirty little secrets of the business.
The manager told Enoch, “You're going to have to lie to these people at points. You are going to have to.”
Her office is filled with debt collectors dialing non-stop. One guy, Brett, is assigned to train our undercover producer. Using a phony name, and a script, he spends all day tricking and intimidating people.
Bret told our producer,
"You're calling with a big huge big fat (blanking) lie!"
He made some calls while our producer sat next to him. To one customer he said, “Sir, I have a court order I need to get out to you.”
He then admitted to our producer, “It's all bull, but it sounds good.”
Then our producer asked Brett, “They are not actually going to be pursued?”
“No,” Brett said.
All this deception apparently pays well.
The company’s office manager said, “You are given every tool to make 80-100 thousand dollars a year. I’m 32 and get everything I want.”
Sarina Burdon of Nampa, Idaho, says she became alarmed after receiving calls from that same debt collecting company demanding her to pay off a $400 debt that she says she didn't even owe them.
Guerrero asked, “What threats did they make to you?”
“Criminal charges,” Sarina replied. “They told me what the charges would be, what jail time I would get.”
“They actually told you they could put you in jail?” asked Guerrero.
Sarina answered, “Yes.”
Guerrero caught up with office manager, Anna Bonda as she arrived to work. “Do you ever ask your employees to lie in order to collect a debt?” Guerrero asked.
“No,” she responded.
Guerrero said, “Would you like to see a video of you instructing your employees to lie in order to collect a debt?
Anna replied, “No, I wouldn't. No thank you. No thanks.”
The company denied ever threatening Sarina Burdon. And it’s no surprise that both companies featured in this report received an “F” rating with the Better Business Bureau.