Phony Debt Collection Scams

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Some debt collection scammers try to defraud Minnesotans out of money they do not even owe, making a difficult financial situation even worse. Many of the phony debt collection scams that are currently operating pretend to be collecting money in connection with a short-term, “payday” loan that the consumer never even took out.

How the Scam Works

Some Minnesotans have reported that fraudsters pretending to be debt collectors have contacted them to demand payment for an Internet payday loan or other financial obligation that the consumer never made, or another debt to a creditor that the person does not owe. The fraudsters typically contact the citizen over the telephone, but may also send an official-looking letter, email, or text. In today’s age of technology, fraudsters use random phone numbers to evade detection and make it difficult to track the phone number to a location. They also sometimes use new technology to copy logos to impersonate real companies or the government. The fraudulent operators may use illegal threats of legal action, arrest, or contacting a person’s place of employment to try to bully the victim into immediately disclosing their credit card number or banking information.

Fraudulent Threats of Legal Action

Phony collection scammers can be extremely aggressive and sometimes threaten to send the sheriff to have a person arrested if the person does not pay immediately. The fraudsters have also threatened to garnish a person’s pay check or bank account, submit affidavits to the court against the person, or send an official to serve the person with a summons. Do not be intimidated into paying money you don’t owe or disclosing your personal financial information in the face of such scare tactics—these types of threats are illegal. Under the law, collectors cannot use any false, deceptive, or misleading statements when trying to collect a debt. Specifically, they cannot imply that nonpayment will lead to your arrest, imply that they are government representatives, misrepresent the amount you owe, make a letter look as though it is from the government or the court, or threaten to disclose false information about you to the credit bureaus.

Is the Company Licensed?

Debt collection companies operating in Minnesota must obtain a license with the Department of Commerce. You can search for a debt collector’s license online at the Minnesota Dept. of Commerce:

If a company that calls you is not registered, that likely means it is a scam or acting illegally! Report the problem immediately by contacting the Department of Commerce as follows:

Minnesota Department of Commerce
85 East Seventh Place, Suite 280
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 539-1500

The Federal Trade Commission enforces the federal debt collection laws. You should report violations to the FTC as follows:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
(877) 382-4357
TTY: (866) 653-4261

What Are My Rights?

Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and other state laws:

Red Flags

The following conduct by a “debt collector” may be red flags that you are being targeted by a phony collection scam:

Personal Information

In this age of technology, scam artists are sometimes able to obtain detailed personal information about a person, including banking information and even the last four digits of a Social Security number. Do not be taken in by a phony collection scam simply because the fraudster provides some accurate personal information about you. Do not respond to any requests that you “verify” such information for the caller either. Remember, scam artists do not follow the law, and verifying or disclosing any such information could make you more vulnerable to identity theft. Contact the Department of Commerce immediately to determine if the company is a licensed debt collector, and contact the company in writing to dispute debts that you don’t owe or can’t be verified. If you believe you are the target of a scam, file a complaint with the Commerce Department, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Attorney General’s Office.

For additional information, or to file a complaint, please contact the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office as follows:

Office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
(651) 296-3353 (Twin Cities Calling Area)
(800) 657-3787 (Outside the Twin Cities)
(800) 627-3529 (Minnesota Relay)

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