Debt Collection Phone Scam

Debt Collector Phone Scam

Get the right tools to fight back against debt collection and loan scammers.


Debt forgiveness and relief are available to many consumers, but navigating these confusing processes and vetting vendors and salespeople for legitimacy isn’t easy, especially when they call you out of the blue.

What makes it even more challenging is that you often can’t be sure if the person on the other end of the line is really there to help you, or if it’s a phony debt collection scammer that’s out to steal your money with an offer that’s too good to be true. When you’re looking for relief in a stressful time, how can you know for sure what your best options are?

Debt collection and advance-fee loan scams regularly rank among the top consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That’s because it’s very much the wild west, with legitimate collectors using aggressive tactics and illegitimate thieves running unlawful scams. It’s hard to know where to look as someone who has personal debt.

But fear not: We can supply ourselves with knowledge and fight back against even the sneakiest of scams. The first step in protecting yourself is understanding your rights as a consumer. Knowing these regulations can save you from giving a scammer your money or important personal information.

Next, it’s important to hone your scam radar. We’ll go over some good practices you can follow to help identify scams, including some common red flags to watch out for when protecting yourself.

And if you want to stop getting fake debt collection and loan calls altogether, we’ll tell you some tactics that are sure to put your mind at ease.

What are debt collection phone scams?

Collection agency scams occur when someone contacts you, often with a phone call or text, and claims that you owe a debt. The debt they’re referring to may be completely fake, canceled, discharged, forgiven, or beyond the period for collection.

Phony debt collection scams can be very believable, especially if the scammer has sneakily tapped into your credit report. In that case, they may call asking you about actual debts using real details of the transaction.

Don’t let the mention of your actual debts get to you: if the caller issues threats about legal action, that’s the first sign that a debt collection call isn’t real. The scammer’s ultimate goal? Get you to act before you think. A legitimate debt collector will never do that — in fact, they can’t by law. In some rare cases, a debt collector may stray outside of their legal boundaries, so it helps to know your rights when it comes to handling collections.

Common loan or credit card debt collection scams may include:

  • Calling about a debt you may have, but threatening you with consequences for not paying (like hefty fines or jail time)
  • Calling about an IRS debt that needs to be paid on the spot
  • Calling for immediate payment on a loan or credit card debt that you never took out

Here are some examples of what a debt collection agency scam call may sound like:

How to spot fake collection agencies

While some scam calls may feel very real, there are usually still clear and apparent signs that something’s not right — let’s dive into some common red flags you should look out for. It’s time to hone that scammer radar.

Here are some warning signs that a call may not be as real as it seems:

  • The debt collector withholds information from you: To solicit payment for a debt, the collector must tell you the name of the creditor, amount owed, and your rights to dispute the debt. If they don’t have that on hand, they have 5 days to provide that info in writing.
  • They pressure you to pay by money transfer or prepaid card: Scammers often attempt to get payment using untraceable or non-reversible payment methods.
  • They say they’ll tell your boss: Threats to smear you to friends, family, or co-workers are against the law, so no legitimate collection agency would ever do that.
  • They threaten you with jail time or fines: Unless you owe criminal fines or restitution, failure to pay a debt will not lead to your arrest.
  • They request sensitive personal financial information: Requests to provide your bank account number, routing numbers, or social security numbers should put you on alert.
  • They call at inconvenient times: The law requires debt collectors to call between 8 A.M. and 9 P.M. Any calls received at other times are likely scam calls.

Trust your gut. Don’t give out any personal or banking information if you’re unsure about any aspect of the call. You can request their name, phone number, address, and license number and do some of your own research before moving forward (and if they don’t provide any of that information, it’s likely a scam).

If you think you’ve been affected by a debt collection fraud scam, call your bank immediately andreport it to the FTC.

Legally, debt collectors need to stick to certain guidelines that protect consumers against harassment.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) states that debt collectors cannot:

  • Use obscene or profane language, threats of violence, or false statements that imply the debt collector is affiliated with the U.S. government or a state government
  • Contact consumers before 8 A.M. or after 9 P.M.
  • Contact the consumer at their place of work
  • Tell coworkers, employers, family members, or friends about someone else’s debt
  • Abuse or harass the consumer by repeatedly calling or letting it ring continually

If a debt collector is violating your legal rights, you have a number of options available to you:

  • File an online complaint using the FTC's Complaint Assistant
  • Report the action to the state Attorney General
  • Sue the creditor in small claims or state court
  • Use the violation as leverage in debt settlement negotiations

In some extreme cases, you may be able to recover money or other damages. Contact a legal professional for more information on your options.

What can I do if I think I’m being scammed on a debt collection call?

Say you’ve picked up the phone and you’re feeling immense pressure to pay right away (this should be a red flag, mind you). How can you protect yourself?

  • Ask for a callback number: Say you’re busy at the moment and you’ll call back. Then, after you hang up, look into the number. A legitimate organization will have a callback number to reconnect. Debt collector scams will not.
  • Contact original creditor: Confirm with your original creditor that the debt collection is legitimate.
  • Check your credit report for the account: Past-due accounts will often be noted on your credit report before they move into collections.
  • Submit a complaint: When in doubt, turn to the experts. Submit a complaint to the FTC for review.
  • Sign up for a call blocking service: The best way to avoid being scammed is to block the scammers outright. A third-party call blocking service like RoboKiller will protect you from suspicious activity and give you options to prevent harassment from debt collectors.

Are all debt collection calls scams?

While all debt collection calls may be stressful to receive, not all of them are scams.

Some of them are legitimate companies inquiring about a real debt and they may have permission to contact you to collect it. However, there are some important laws like the Telephone Consumer Protections Act and The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in place to protect you from harassment from these agencies.

An agency may be legitimate, but that doesn’t mean they’re always using legal methods to contact you. Debt collection problems are among the most common complaints received by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

If you’re dealing with relentless cold callers, here are some steps you can take:

  • File a complaint with the CFPB or the FTC.
  • Report the problem to your state Attorney General’s office or to other state or local regulators.
  • Use a third-party call blocking service like RoboKiller to help give you some peace of mind.

Remember, even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA, this doesn’t erase any legitimate debt you may owe.

What are common loan phone scams?

Loan scams target people who owe money to debt collectors or lenders, have a spotty credit history, or may be overleveraged and making high payments on debt.

The scammers offer you quick and easy cash to cover your costs (so long as you pay them a fee first, of course). The loans really are too good to be true and the results can often be disastrous.

Student Loans

Student loan forgiveness scams

A staggering number of Americans are burdened with high student loan debt. That makes student loan forgiveness and debt relief a playground for scammers.

Student loan forgiveness scam calls usually offer a service that delivers total loan forgiveness or cancellation. Many offer a fake loan with high service fees, while others will try to get your FSA ID login info to steal personal information. Others will try to get you to sign over third party authorization and power of attorney to access your assets.

Personal Loans

Personal loan offers

Cash advance scams or unsolicited personal loans will advertise quick money without a credit check to cover bills or other debts in exchange for advance fees or collateral requirements.

Once ensnared in a personal loan scam, you may end up out a few hundred dollars in fees on a bad loan or find yourself in a battle to hold onto your most valuable assets.

Car Loans

Your information was exposed.

Auto loan and refinancing scams offer you relief from high monthly car payments for an enrollment fee of a few hundred dollars.

Once paid, many will tell you to stop making payments on your loan while they “renegotiate” terms, sometimes requesting more payment to fund your appeals. Often, they will collect payments to “give to the lender” directly. Advance fee scams like this are increasingly common.

Of course, this is all a ruse, and one many consumers don’t discover until their car is being repossessed.

There often are legitimate ways to renegotiate loan payments or secure refinancing, but do your research before sharing any information.

Always keep in mind, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. More often than not, the person on the other end of the line is trying to take your money, your personal information, or both.

How to tell if a loan offer is a scam

The line between a good loan and a bad one is often blurry. Here are some red flags to consifer when determining if an offer is real or not:

  • Upfront fees: A legitimate lender won’t require you to pay upfront fees in cash for underwriting your loan.
  • Unregistered or unlicensed lending: All lenders are required to register with state and federal regulators.
  • No credit check: Many lenders will take a number of factors into consideration, but any offer that doesn’t include a credit check is questionable.
  • Unusual forms of payment: Beware of a lender that requests payment in the form of gift cards, wire payments, Bitcoin, or other non-refundable cash equivalents.
  • Phone or email solicitation: Lenders that cold call via phone or email are immediately suspect. Be cautious with direct mail, too.
  • No physical address: All lenders should have a physical address, even in the digital age. Those that don’t make their address known often have something to hide.
  • Insecure website address: Reputable lenders go to great lengths to protect their borrowers personal information. A website that isn’t secure is a clue that their operation isn’t trustworthy.
  • High-pressure salespeople: A lender who is pushing you to sign very likely operates with an ulterior motive in mind.

When deciding on a lender, be sure to do some digging before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Check for negative reviews online
  • Ensure the salesperson’s email address matches their company name
  • Look for grammatical errors in emails, letters, flyers, and website text

If you notice any of these red flags, take it as a sign that something isn’t right. Best course of action? Hang up and get in touch with a trusted source instead.

How to stop receiving spam calls

We’ve got some good and bad news. The bad news first: Spammers will do whatever it takes to get your information or money and their scams getting more convincing by the day. The good news is that it’s possible to protect yourself and stop receiving unwanted calls whether they’re from a legitimate (but overly pushy) lender or a scammer.

Here are the options the FTC recommends:

The most effective tactic for stopping unwanted phone calls is a third-party robocall blocker app like RoboKiller.

RoboKiller gives you control over the kind of calls you receive, and uses powerful artificial intelligence to filter out scammers. It’s no surprise that the FTC recommends installing a blocker app on your mobile phone to eliminate potentially dangerous spam calls.

Read our blog on how the RoboKiller app helps to block spam calls.

The federal Do Not Call List

If you receive a number of annoying solicitation calls, the Do Not Call List offers some relief. It’s a complementary service provided by the federal government that makes you ineligible for unwanted cold sales calls. However, the Do Not Call List doesn’t block calls from scammers who operate illegally.

Silence Unknown Callers from iPhone

Apple iPhone users may have noticed some new caller ID prompts in recent months that highlight a potential “Spam Call.” In addition to this feature, iPhone users can enable a “silence unknown callers” feature to silence any incoming caller that isn’t saved to your address book.

It’s a very effective tool, but at times it’s too effective — it will also silence calls from unknown numbers you want to hear from, including schools, work phones, or mechanics, to name a few.

Setting up “Silence Unknown Callers” on your iPhone is easy:

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  1. Navigate to your device’s Settings.
  1. Open phone settings.
  1. Toggle ‘silence unkown callers’ to on.

Once enabled, calls from unknown numbers will not ring when they call.

Call blocking and labeling from your provider

Chances are your landline or wireless phone provider offers some degree of call labeling or blocking service. Some are offered free of charge, but others require a monthly payment or costly upgrade to enable.

Does your provider offer call-blocking and labeling options?

Mobile

Wireless/Mobile

  • AT&T: Mobile security and call protection services
  • Google Project Fi: Call blocking options
  • Sprint: Call blocking options
  • T-Mobile: Call-protection options to identify or block potential scammers
  • U.S. Cellular: Automatic network call identification, labeling, and blocking app options
  • Verizon: Call filters for screening and blocking unwanted calls
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Landline

Landline/Wireline/VoIP

  • AT&T: Digital Phone Call Protect service, call blocking, and other features
  • CenturyLink: Customer tools to block unwanted calls
  • Comcast: Call blocking options for XFINITY Voice subscribers
  • Frontier Communications: Consumer options for call blocking tools and services
  • Spectrum: Nomorobo service to block robocallers
  • Verizon: Options for stopping unwanted calls to residential lines
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How does RoboKiller work?

RoboKiller is leading the fight against spam calls and text messages.

RoboKiller is the only call blocker app that uses AI and machine learning to filter out spam calls and text messages so they don’t interrupt your day.

Most other call blocker apps rely on caller ID or consumer feedback, both of which are inconsistent and easily gamed by skillful scammers. RoboKiller maintains a database of spam numbers, assembled using reams of available data from millions of calls, to create a global blocklist that is updated daily with new untrustworthy numbers.

We’re working hard to block 99% of spam calls and texts before they ever reach you. Join the fight against spam calls and texts and take back control of your phone.

Here’s how it works:

Health Insurance Block Graphic

Plus, RoboKiller has the capability to filter out calls from spoofed local numbers, which use a number from your home area to mimic a call from a friend or family member.

Stop getting spam texts from scammers

Thieves with sophisticated software can spam hundreds or thousands of numbers taken from a phone number list they purchased online. Chances are you’ve received an increasing amount of these annoying, sometimes threatening texts in recent months.

The RoboKiller app analyzes the metadata associated with a text to look for hallmark signs of a spam text. Before doing so, it will automatically anonymize identifiable information like your name or number that can be used by scammers. Then, the app will determine whether to filter out the text and block the number.

To ensure comprehensive coverage, suspect numbers are referenced against our global blocklist to track illegal or spammy behavior.

Unblock safe numbers easily

Occasionally, you will want to get a text from a number that is flagged by RoboKiller. Adding it to your “allow list” will circumvent the blocking feature and let you receive calls and text messages from that person. If you decide to block them again, you have full control. That way, you only get the calls you want and none of the ones you don't.

Stop annoying debt collection and scam calls today

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