Yet another disturbing case of debt collection fraud has surfaced, this time in Yuba City, California, in March of this year. A man claiming to be a debt collector called Michelle Bertsch a dozen times on her cellphone, demanding she pay a due balance of $1,395 or pay in installments of $500; the woman didn’t owe anyone any money.
Bertsch reports the man said, “‘This is Jack MacIntire from Advance America loan. I’m fixing to press charges against you. Why are you running from paying me? We will fax over documents to the Yuba City Police Department.” Then, after a dozen more calls from the supposed debt collector, she got a call from a woman pretending to be a Yuba City police officer. The woman identified herself by name, said she was a police officer with Yuba City Police, and then said “I’m coming to your work, you are getting arrested and sent to jail for seven to 21 days.” Apparently, the scam artists had some sophisticated technology; when Bertsch dialed the number displayed on her cellphone when this imposter called, it did connect her with the police department.
But the police were entirely unaware of the call supposedly made by an officer. The scam artists had obtained some serious information on Bertsch, including her entire social security number. “It was bad. I was shaken up,” said Bertsch. “I hope it doesn’t happen to other people. I was pretty scared.”
She contacted a local Sacramento news station, who called the number on her caller ID (from which the “debt collector” called, not the “police officer”), and received a recording to leave a message, with no company name offered. A Google search on the number brought up numerous complaints from people who were almost duped into paying after hearing similar threats; the Better Business Bureau says that number has been used by numerous scam artists. The Bureau also says people need to realize that the police department does not call to collect debts; that’s very important to remember when you get a threatening call.
If you get a call that feels like a scam, immediately ask the caller for proof of the debt; a legitimate collection agency has 30 days to produce this, in writing. Don’t give them any information, just verify theirs (and record the call, if you’re able to so). Contact the Better Business Bureau, they will warn others; contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a complaint—this will help track patterns of abuse, and eventually catch the people behind it. If you feel physically threatened, contact the police.
If a collection agency has harassed you, you may be entitled to money damages up to $1,000.00, based on the FDCPA, which has been around for almost 35 years. The FDCPA is a federal law that applies to every state. In other words, everyone is protected by the FDCPA. The FDCPA is essentially a laundry list of what debt collectors can and cannot do while collecting a debt, as well as things debt collectors must do while collecting a debt. Plus, the FDCPA has a fee-shift provision. This means, the collection agency pays your attorney’s fees and costs