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Update on Debt Collection Scams

Previous articles here on the bankruptcy blog have discussed consumers’ rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Collection Agencies.  However, here in Augusta GA, we’ve noticed that some collection agencies have become more aggressive in how they collect debts.  Additionally, there are other scammers who are trying to collect fictitious debts, under the pretense of law enforcement, court personnel or a government agency.

The following claims are signs that it is probably a scam:

–          That the consumer has criminal charges pending for failure to pay a debt;

–          That the consumer missed a court date and now faces a warrant for failure to appear;

–          That the consumer faces immediate incarceration.  Scammers especially will attempt to create a sense of urgency so that panic will cause the call recipient to act without thinking;

–          That payment needs to be made on a prepaid card, or by allowing immediate access to your bank account;

–          They are unable or unwilling to provide any written documents supporting their claim, such as an arrest warrant or hearing notice;

–          That the caller works with a “court intermediary” or other third party agency that can negotiate a settlement with the creditor, and prevent any further legal proceedings.

If you are contacted by a debt collector who maintains that they are in law enforcement, or otherwise associated with the government, ask for their full name, rank, title, badge number if applicable, and callback phone number.  Do not rely on the number that shows up on your caller ID, as scammers and debt collectors can “spoof” a phone number.  For instance, a caller from New York could make a number for “Augusta-Richmond County” show up on your caller ID to lend some credibility to their claim.  Ask if you can call them back, and then call the number for your local law enforcement office or court (do not call “911”) as listed in your local directory, and ask for the individual.  If they do not recognize the name, let them know that there is a caller claiming to be associated with their office.  It is a crime to impersonate a law enforcement officer.  Unfortunately, it is also difficult to prosecute as the location of the callers is usually out of state, or even out of the country.  Keep in mind that these scammers and collectors will gather enough local information to make the claim sound believable, even using the names of local judges, court clerks and law enforcement, as this information is easily obtained over the internet.

What you need to remember when faced with such a call:

–          Request verification of the debt or charges in writing;

–          Any court summons for a civil debt lawsuit must be hand-delivered by a marshal or sheriff’s deputy, with a return of service filed with the court verifying that the defendant or another adult at their abode received the summons;

–          Unless a court was to make an exception based upon an individual’s particular circumstance, all court notices after a summons is issued will be mailed by regular mail.  No oral notices of hearings or other matters are provided;

–          In Georgia, an arrest warrant will NOT be issued for your failure to appear and defend against a civil lawsuit brought against you for money owed to a lender, such as a credit card, medical bill or personal loan;

–          Finally, keep calm and keep your composure.  Do not let anyone force into a quick decision.  In no circumstance should you be discouraged from talking to an attorney about your legal rights.

Hopefully, someone who does not owe a debt will not allow themselves to be deceived by such a caller.  And someone who does owe the debt should not allow the threats to divert money from their monthly necessities, like housing and food.  If you are behind on bills, and are receiving collection calls for debts that you know that you owe, but can’t pay, you should contact a bankruptcy attorney.  A bankruptcy will protect you from the collection calls and harassment, and restore your peace of mind.