The story a school nurse told the Better Business Bureau's investigator was sad and more than a little scary. The woman said she received phone calls threatening her with jail or the loss of her job if she didn't meet the caller's demands for money. Ultimately, she paid $4,700 to the scammers before she realized it was fraud.
The woman, a school nurse, said the calls started after she filled out an online application for a payday loan last fall. She said she had taken out similar loans in the past but thought she was current on all of her debts. The callers told her that they worked for a California law firm and that they were trying to collect on past due debts. Further details on the woman's case are in today's BBB press release.
The BBB believes that the callers were actually from overseas. The use of threats of physical harm to a person, property or reputation to collect debts is illegal, and collectors cannot threaten to garnish your wages unless they intend to do so.
Unfortunately, the school nurse is not the only person who has received similar calls lately. Another woman said she received calls from men who told her that a sniper with a rifle was waiting outside her home. If she didn't pay the money they demanded, the callers said her home would be set on fire.
Other consumers said they have received vague threats from scammers seeking money or personal information. In many cases, the scammers want victims to buy reloadable money cards, such as Green Dot MoneyPaks or Vanilla Reload Network cards. Such a request is a red flag that the demand is fraud.
The BBB's tips for consumers who receive calls from debt collectors include:
- Know your rights. Under federal and state law, debt collectors are prohibited from using threats of violence or harm against a person, property or reputation. They cannot threaten to garnish your wages unless they intend to do so, and they cannot harass you.
- Ask for written proof of your debt. By law, a debt collection agency must provide you with a valid notice within five days of contacting you about the debt.
- Tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you. Under federal law, a debt collector cannot continue to contact you – at work or home – once you have told them in writing to stop.
- Understand that you cannot be jailed simply for nonpayment of a debt.
- If you have a complaint, you should contact your state’s attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) or the BBB.
- Check out a company’s BBB Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.