When creditors sell your unpaid debt to a collection agency, the debt collector can reach out to you directly to try and collect what you owe. But criminals posing as legitimate debt collectors may also target you, using deception or intimidation to collect debts you don’t owe, or they have no authority to collect.

If something seems off, it probably is. Here are some of the red flags of a debt collection scam.

1. The Debt Collector Breaks the Law

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) makes it illegal for debt collectors to engage in many types of abusive or deceptive behavior. Fraudulent debt collectors are already breaking the law, so they may not be as careful to avoid the following illegal behavior:

· Threatening you with violence, jail time or other false consequences.

· Using vulgar language.

· Repeatedly harassing you with phone calls.

· Lying about the amount you owe.

· Contacting you outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.

· Contacting you at the workplace if your employer doesn’t permit the communications.

· Contacting third parties about your debt other than your attorney, credit bureaus, the original creditor or their own attorneys.

Remember, just because a debt collector breaks the law doesn’t mean they’re running a scam. But even if the debt is legitimate, the debt collector has violated your rights under the FDCPA, and you should document these violations as this can help protect you.

2. Demands for Immediate Payment

Debt collectors may ask you to pay over the phone immediately, but you aren’t required to comply. Instead, you should gather more information about the debt; it may be illegitimate, or you may not owe the amount they say you do.

Under the FDCPA, debt collectors must send you a written notice, within five days of first contacting you, that contains the amount of your debt, the name of the creditor and instructions for requesting more information or disputing the debt. You can send a verification letter asking for more information, including proof that you owe the debt, within 30 days of the first contact.

Whatever you do, don’t pay over the phone immediately. You need more information to verify that the debt is legitimate.

3. Unusual Payment Methods

If the “debt collector” wants you to pay your debt with gift cards, wire transfers or some other unusual format or payment method, this is a big red flag. These payment methods are more difficult to track and recover once they’ve been sent.

4. Demands for Personal Information

A debt collector should not need details about your bank account, credit card number, Social Security number or other personal data. If they ask for this information, they may be looking up to rack up fraudulent charges on your accounts or use your information to commit identity theft. Don’t provide any sensitive information.

What to Do When You Get Called About a Debt

When you get a call from someone claiming to be a debt collector, here’s what you can do:

· Document everything. Make sure to record and save every call, letter and other form of communication you receive. Get names of everyone you speak to, the name of the debt collection agency (including its phone number and street address) and write down everything that is discussed.

· Request more information. Within 30 days of getting contacted by the debt collector, ask for a debt validation letter that provides more details. If the debt is legitimate, the debt collector should be able to provide more information upon request. If the debt collector can’t or won’t provide more information, this is a sign the debt is illegitimate, or they can’t back up their collection efforts. If you think the debt is real, start doing your own research and gathering as much information as you can find.

· Ask them to stop calling. If you want the debt collector to stop calling, send a written request to the business address asking to cease communications. This won’t make the debt go away, but it can prevent legitimate debt collectors from further contacting you other than to verify that they can stop calling n and to inform you of any further actions like a lawsuit.

· File a complaint. You can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state’s attorney general’s office to report scams or illegal behavior. Gather as much information as you can and include it in your report.

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