Debt Collector Phone Scams: Everything You Need to Know
The phone rings. The guy on the other end of the line says you owe money. He sounds convincing.
"You owe us $500," he says. "Can't pay? You could lose your home."
Most people would take a call like this very seriously. Someone says you owe money, and there will be consequences if you don't pay up. The person on the phone sounds official.
But how genuine are these calls?
What if we told you that fake debt collection calls are one of the biggest phone scams happening right now?
What if we told you that scammers aren't chasing old debts at all? They are just trying to steal your personal details. They are trying to trick you.
If you've received a call from someone claiming to be a debt collector, it's hard to know whether this communication is genuine — or a big fat scam. Even if you have legitimate debts, how do you really know if someone calling you is from a genuine company or just trying to steal your information?
Luckily, there's an easy way to figure out the truth. RoboKiller's Phone Number Lookup lets you check the numbers of unwanted callers so you can find out whether they are legitimate or not. It takes just seconds. As a result, you can protect yourself from identity fraud and block unwanted numbers.
Want to find out whether a debt collection call is genuine? Look up the number here.
- The Basics of Debt Collection Scams
- Why are Debt Collection Scams So Dangerous?
- Different Types of Debt Collection Scams
- Spoofed Calls and Debt Collection Scams
- What are Phantom Debt Phone Calls?
- What is the Government Doing About Fake Debt Collection Calls?
- What to Do When You Receive a Debt Collection Call
- Using Phone Lookup
The Basics of Debt Collection Scams
Before we go any further, it's important to differentiate genuine debt call sand scam debt calls.
The average American has around $38,000 in personal debt (not including home loans). Credit cards, car loans, bank loans, you name it — there is a wide range of consumer debts in the United States, and creditors often chase people for non-payment.
Sometimes, creditors "call-in" debt and chase money owed in a number of ways, such as letters, emails, phone calls, and text messages. Most people don't have the number of their bank or credit card company saved on their phone, so communications from these lenders might seem like they are scam calls. Although annoying, these calls are, in fact, genuine.
It is completely legal for these companies to contact you over the phone because you owe them money. However, creditors cannot harass you by calling you constantly throughout the day.
Calls from some third-party companies may also be completely legal. In this scenario, a credit card company or bank has sold a past-due account to a separate organization and passed on your communication details. For example, a loan provider might hire a debt collection agency to contact you about a charged-off account. Again, this is 100 percent legal because you actually owe the original company money.
However, there are other instances that are completely illegal. Some scammers might pretend to be debt collectors or credit providers in order to trick you into paying money or handing over your sensitive financial information. Usually, scammers pretend that you owe them money and convince you to "cough up." In other cases, scammers might trick you into paying a debt that has already been paid or is legally unenforceable because it is has expired.
As you can see, some debt collection calls are genuine and legal, while others are fake and illegal. It can be hard to tell which calls are real, and you might be wary of talking to a genuine debt collector when there are so many scammers out there.
This is why using a service like Phone Lookup is such a good idea. You can quickly check whether a caller is genuine by searching for their phone number on RoboKiller's database. The whole process takes mere seconds.
You can also prevent scam calls in the future by downloading the RoboKiller app onto your Android or iPhone. This app identifies scam calls so you can stop your phone ringing with unwanted, annoying communications.
Why are Debt Collection Scams So Dangerous?
Debt collection scams are particularly nasty because they often prey on the vulnerable — people who might owe money and are scared of the consequences if they don't pay.
Unfortunately, the problem of debt collection scam calls in becoming more prevalent in the U.S. and, despite changes in legislation regarding scam calls, many people receive these communications on a daily basis.
There are around 350,000 reports of imposter scams, and many of these are debt collection scam calls, according to the FCC. Almost one in five Americans who reported an imposter scam to the FCC lost money, and scammers stole a total of $328 million in 2017 alone.
Twenty-three percent of all complaints to the FCC in 2017 were about debt collection calls, with many people finding them an annoyance. In some cases, however, these calls are much more than a mere nuisance. There have been many reports of people who have lost their entire life savings after handing over their financial details to scammers on the phone.
Different Types of Debt Collection Scams
There are many different types of debt collection scams out there. Unfortunately, many people fall victim to these scams and lose large sums of money. This is why it's important to identify the signs of debt collection scams and use a service like Phone Lookup to check whether calls are genuine.
You Owe Money and It Needs to Be Paid Straight Away
This is the most common type of debt collection scam. Often, the person on the other end of the phone will claim you owe money on an old debt and it needs to be paid right away — or you could face legal consequences, penalties, or worse. Many people fall for these scare tactics and hand over their private information or financial details over the phone.
Typically, the caller is vague about the debt you owe and might just have a few details. In other cases, the caller has made up the debt completely and is hoping that you will believe them. Regardless, the person on the phone will usually pressure you to pay immediately and may threaten you. Remember, these calls are 100 percent illegal. They are scams.
Remember, genuine debt collection calls have to abide by legislation and guidelines and won't threaten you or blackmail you if you owe money. Often, real creditors and debt collection companies will provide you with a wide range of alternative options to pay your debt, depending on your budget and personal circumstances.
You Can Only Pay by Wire Transfer, PayPal, or Gift Cards
Genuine debt collection companies will let you pay your debts in a number of different ways:
- Credit card.
- Debit card.
- Online payments.
- Bank transfer.
- Cash (at your local bank).
Scammers, on the other hand, might present you with a few limited options. Many of them will ask you to make a payment over PayPal or via wire transfer. This is a red flag and suggests that the caller is trying to scam you. In these cases, the scammer isn't trying to collect money for a debt at all.
Wire transfers and PayPal payments can sometimes be more difficult to trace than more conventional methods, so scammers often use them. This also makes it difficult for you to get your money back if you have been a victim of a phone scammer.
The Caller Threatens You With Jail
This happens far more often than you might think. In the United States, you typically can't go to jail if you owe money. (Unless you don't pay a court order or federal income tax.) However, scammers might try to convince you otherwise.
In almost all cases, creditors and debt collection agencies who deal with consumer debts cannot take you to jail for any money you owe them, and they certainly can't threaten you with jail time if you don't pay up. If they do this, they are breaking the law.
If someone who called you is threatening you with jail time, it is likely to be a scammer who is trying to steal your personal information.
The Caller Asks You For Basic Information
When you take out a financial product, such as a credit card or loan, you will need to provide the creditor with some basic information. This might include:
- Your name.
- Your date of birth.
- Your address.
- Your email address.
If a genuine creditor or debt collection agency is trying to chase you for money, they will know this information already. If someone who called you is asking you for this basic information, it could be a sign that they are trying to scam you.
You Receive a Call at a Strange Time
By law, genuine creditors and debt collection agencies can only call you at certain times of the day. This means that if you receive a call from someone asking you about debt very late at night, it could be a scammer.
The Caller Tells You They are Going to Tell Your Friends and Family About Your Debt
Again, this is completely illegal, and it suggests that a scammer is trying to contact you instead of a genuine creditor or debt collection agency.
Many people think that there is a stigma associated with being in debt, and this type of threat feeds into that fear. As a result, some people hand over their financial information because they think this will settle the debt and stop their family and friends knowing about it.
Remember, a genuine debt collector will never threaten to tell anyone about your debt because this is illegal. If someone does threaten you over the phone, hang up immediately and block the number. If you have already handed over your financial details, contact your account provider immediately. You might also want to contact law enforcement.
Spoofed Calls and Debt Collection Scams
One of the biggest problems with debt collection calls is that you are not sure if they are genuine or not. Often, scammers use caller ID spoofing to hide their numbers and make it appear like they are calling from a local number. This might make you think that your local bank is calling you about a debt.
Scammers who use this method can face penalties for up to $10,000 for each violation. However, many of these scammers are located outside the United States, making it difficult to track them. Plus, fraudsters use cheap software to create spoofed numbers, which makes it difficult for the FCC to crack down on these scams.
"Scammers often use neighbor spoofing so it appears that an incoming call is coming from a local number, or spoof a number from a company or a government agency that you may already know and trust," says the FCC. "If you answer, they use scam scripts to try to steal your money or valuable personal information, which can be used in fraudulent activity."
What are Phantom Debt Phone Calls?
You might have heard the term "phantom debt." It's when you are chased for money that you don't owe because of one of the following:
- Your debt has expired or it has reached the statute of limitations.
- Your debt has already been paid but you are still being contacted by a company.
- You have a similar name or address to another debtor and a company is trying to chase you for the debt.
- Your debt doesn't exist at all.
In almost all of the above examples, you owe no money whatsoever, but you are still receiving calls from companies. Although these companies may very well be genuine, they shouldn't be contacting you, especially if you have already explained that you don't owe money.
Here's an example:
You receive a call from a debt collector who explains that you owe money from an unpaid credit card bill five years ago. You have no recollection of this debt and check your credit report. It turns out that the company is trying to chase you for someone else's debt, and this matter has nothing to do with you. You have explained this to the company but they continue to contact you.
Although this case has arisen because of mistaken identity, you can still prevent further calls from this company by using an app like RoboKiller on your phone. This way, you can stop nuisance calls from interfering with your day-to-day business.
In other instances, however, scammers chase people for phantom debts in the hope that they will pay up. This isn't a case of mistaken identity. Scammers know all very well that phantom debts don't exist but try to convince people to transfer money in order to settle debts.
The federal government has banned more than 180 individuals and debt collection agencies associated with phantom debts and even implemented million-dollar fines. Still, the problem persists, and it's making some peoples' lives miserable.
"Phantom debt accounts for 39 percent of complaints about collectors fielded by the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), making it by far the most rampant form of debt collection abuse," says the AARP.
What is the Government Doing About Fake Debt Collection Calls?
Fake debt collection calls are having a profound effect on many people. We mentioned that there are penalties for scammers who use these methods, but what else is the government doing?
Recently, the FCC introduced something called STIR/SHAKEN, which is a new technology that tries to validate callers from unknown numbers.
The premise is simple: Every time you receive a call, your phone carrier will attempt to identify the person on the other end. If your carrier doesn't recognize the person calling, it will notify you on your caller ID screen. You might receive a message saying "Scam Likely," for example, which suggests that the caller might be a scammer.
Many people think that this new framework actually blocks unwanted calls, including fake debt collection calls, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Your phone carrier, through the STIR/SHAKEN framework, will only notify you if they think that a call might not be genuine. The technology doesn't actually stop calls from getting through to you in the first place.
Although STIR/SHAKEN is definitely a step in the right direction, it's still a new technology — and one that won't prevent fake debt collection calls from reaching you. If you want to stop these calls in the first instance, you might need to take alternative measures.
The government recommends that you report suspicious debt collection calls to the appropriate authorities. For example, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or contact your state Attorney General’s office.
What to Do When You Receive a Debt Collection Call
The American population as a whole receives 200 million robocalls every single day, and many of these are fake debt collection scams that try to trick people into handing over personal data. Here are some of the steps you should take when you receive one of these calls:
- If you are unsure whether an incoming call is from a genuine creditor or debt collection company, be careful about giving your personal identifying information. This includes your name, address, date of birth, and bank details.
- If you don't know whether a call is from a genuine sender, it's best to hang up. Even better, just don't answer the phone. When you answer, you are essentially confirming that your phone number is in use and that you are a real human being. Scammers can then add your number to a database and try to contact you again in the future.
- If you suspect your bank or a debt collection company is trying to contact you, but you are unsure, ignore the call and try calling the number on your account statement.
- If someone is pressuring you to give money, hang up the phone.
- You might want to block calls from an unknown number by contacting your phone carrier. As we mentioned earlier, however, this can be fruitless because scammers use many different numbers at the same time.
- You might think about changing your phone number but scammers can still contact you on your new number.
There is another solution. Using a service like Phone Lookup will let you verify the identity of an unknown number so you can decide what to do next. If the number you received is from a scammer, you can block it on your phone. If the number you received is from a genuine debt collection company or bank, you can contact them on the number on your account statement.
To prevent further scam calls in the future, download the RoboKiller app on your phone. RoboKiller automatically blocks more than 1.1 million robocalls and scam calls from ringing, including fake debt collection calls. As a result, you can take control of who contacts you and prevent time-wasting calls from people wanting to steal your money.
How to Use Phone Lookup
RoboKiller's Phone Lookup is the quickest way to tell whether someone is a scammer. This is how it works:
- Head to lookup.robokiller.com.
- Type in the phone number of the person who called you.
- Find out whether the number is on a scam block list.
You can then block that number from your phone.
With Phone Lookup, you can also see the following information:
- How many calls have originated from a scam number.
- Whether there is an available recording of the call.
- The most active scam numbers in the last hour.
- The most active scam numbers in the last 24 hours.
Want to find out whether a debt collection call is genuine? Look up the number here.