Scammers posing as IRS agents have been making headlines recently. They’ve made more than $15 million duping more than 3,000 since October 2013.
Now fraudsters are switching things up, posing as debt collectors and collection agency representatives, Consumer Reports warns.
While this type of con artist is nothing new, these thieves have a new trick up their sleeves, according to Consumer Reports:
They troll Internet databases for your personal or financial information, so that they appear to be “collecting” debts that you actually owe, making the scam that much more convincing.
For example, you owe money to American Express and a scammer says he or she is collecting an American Express debt. So, you might believe the crook.
“Of course, the money isn’t going to American Express at all,” Consumer Reports states. “It’s going to the scammer, along with any other funds the scammer can access through the financial information you provide.”
Consumer Reports says you also can tell a fake debt collector from a legitimate one by asking a few questions:
1. What is your professional license number, and the name, address and phone number of the company you’re calling from?
If the caller refuses to give this information, hang up.
If the caller provides a phone number, don’t let your guard down.
“Real collection agencies have complex phone systems,” Consumer Reports explains. “If you call and a collector answers directly, he’s likely using a cell phone, a sure sign of a scammer.”
2. Will you send me a “validation notice?”
Don’t discuss any debt until you receive this notice.
It must be sent within five days of initial contact with a debtor and must include the debt amount, the creditor’s name and a description of the debtor’s rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
3. What are the last four digits of the debtor’s Social Security number?
Providing this information violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a federal law, so legitimate debt collectors would not answer this question.
If a scammer correctly cites any numbers, whether they’re your Social Security number or bank account or credit card number, do not confirm that they’re yours.
Consumer Reports warns:
Scammers can use the information to commit identity theft by charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card or checking accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name.
For more ways to protect yourself, check out “4 Steps to Get Debt Collectors Off Your Back.”
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